This profile was updated 24/08/2016. Let’s Talk Science appreciates the support of this volunteer in providing the most up-to-date information about their career and career path.
I was born/grew up in: Halifax, NS
I now live in: Calgary, AB
I completed my training/education at: the University of Calgary
Describe what you do at work.
I typically have a one hour or two half hour meetings each day. These may be with research professors who are looking to design a DNA sequencing experiment. Or I might be meeting with grad students and post-doctoral fellows who want to learn how to approach a specific DNA analysis tasks. I also meet with peers to discuss how to improve the interpretation of DNA sequencing results. The rest of the day usually involves programming new analysis methods, processing new DNA datasets (including quality assurance), and keeping abreast of the scientific literature.
When I was a student I enjoyed:
How does your job affect people’s lives?
The results from the personal genome analyses I produce get used by doctors to develop therapy for some chronically ill patients. Sometimes the results are used to provide genetic counselling for parents (e.g. probability that the disease would recur in a future sibling).
What motivates you in your career?
I get bored fairly easily, and in this job there is always something new. For example, existing wet lab equipment can often answer new questions with the right type of informatics support. Or I might be able to provide support to a researcher who is trying to wring out something novel from an existing method. Additionally, I like to constantly learn, and reading up on the scientific literature is part of the job. There is also a lot of room for integrating data visualization into this kind of work, and I'm very much a visual person.
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
Describe your career path to this career.
I was introduced to bioinformatics in 1996 during a cooperative education work term. At that time I was doing my Bachelor's degree in Computing Science at Dalhousie University. During that work term at the National Research Council, I coded some of the first Web-based visualization tools for genome data. At that time, there were only small partial genomes available, and the Web itself was pretty new.
I worked part time at the NRC until finishing my undergrad, then started working full time there as I pursued a Master's in Computing Science. I explored how to build and get scientists to use the next generation of Web technology, called the Semantic Web. Later I moved to Calgary, and took on the position of lead programmer for the Genome Canada Bioinformatics Platform. Here I worked on designing software for a wide array of projects from kidney transplant rejection detection, to identifying fungal enzymes for biofuel production. I got a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Calgary, developing new methods for biologists to automate large-scale bioinformatics analysis ("programming-by-example"). Since 2011 I have worked at the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy the performing arts, world travel and cooking. Sometimes I write about it for fun on a blog. I help with the coordination of the Engineered Eats Program for Beakerhead. I help with the judging of the Calgary Youth Science Fair. When my schedule permits I participate in Let’s Talk Science’s DNA Day by answering interesting questions posed by students and teachers. I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Calgary and support Habitat for Humanity.
What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?
Project confidence, assuming you can back it up with deeds. Probably more important than particular expertise are problem solving skills: knowing what you don't know, and having effective techniques to get up to speed. This will keep you relevant in an ever changing work landscape.