[BiO BB] PhD Programs: CS vs bioinformatics

Ryan Golhar golharam at umdnj.edu
Wed Nov 23 00:19:55 EST 2005

Hi Daniel,

I can offer a little information as I went through this already.  I have
a B.S. in Computer Science and am about to finish my PhD in a
bioinformatics program.  Both sides have their advantages and
disadvantages.  One of my co-chairs is a geneticist, another is a
molecular biophysicist.  They can provide me with information on the
molecular biology side of bioinformatics, but can't help much on the
computer science.  For that, I have another advisor on my committee who
is a computer scientist.  I work with the geneticist and computer
scientist primarily.

The bioinformatics focus offered by most CS depts are focused applying
CS algorithms, statistics, combinatorial math, and CS techniques to
solving problems in bioinformatics.  They maintain a strong CS focus.
You will pick up the necessary molecular biology along the way, and more
so if you work with people outside of the the CS dept.  You will
probably struggle a little bit catching up on the biology/chemistry
part, but it should be muc of a problem as long as you are aware of it.

If you go to a computational biology or bioinformatics programs, your
education will be more rounded and not just about computer science.
Make sure you thoroughly research your advisors backgrounds and
interests.  Find out what they know and are capable of helping you on.
If they don't have a CS background, then they won't be able to help you
with the CS side of things, especially if that is where you want to keep
your focus.  If you aren't as intersted in the CS side, then this might
be the better way to go. 

I recommend you obtain someone within the field you are focusing on
outside of CS to be on your committee.  I see some of the graduate
students in the CS dept focusing on bioinformatics (and sometimes the
advisors as well), but they usually seem a little lost at first.  Some
of the presentations I went to, you could tell they didn't totally grasp
the molecular biology part of the problems they are focusing on.   Make
sure you have advisors from the different fields regardless of which
path you take.  

Good luck!


-----Original Message-----
From: bio_bulletin_board-bounces+golharam=umdnj.edu at bioinformatics.org
[mailto:bio_bulletin_board-bounces+golharam=umdnj.edu at bioinformatics.org
] On Behalf Of Daniel Terry
Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2005 6:43 PM
To: bio_bulletin_board at bioinformatics.org
Subject: [BiO BB] PhD Programs: CS vs bioinformatics

I am finishing my applications for doctoral study for next fall, but I 
had a question before I send all this off.  I am a computer science 
undergrad wanting to work in bioinformatics (with CS focus), but don't 
have a whole lot of biology and chemistry background.  I will get most 
of what most programs want by the time I graduate, but most of this 
won't show up on transcripts (I just started these classes this 
semester).  I'm sure I want to work in bioinformatics, so the ability to

switch focus areas in CS wouldn't be much of an advantage.

Many of the schools I am applying to have a computational biology or 
bioinformatics PhD-offering programs and a computer science department 
that also does lots of research in this area.  Which would make the most

sense for me to apply to?  Would the specialty programs be more likely 
to accept me because I am specifically interested in their area, or 
should I apply to CS since I have a stronger background in that?

Thanks for any suggestions.

Daniel Terry
Senior Undergraduate in Computer Science
Purdue University - Indianapolis (IUPUI)

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