How do you answer the simple question What do you do?
When the (semi-)joke Me? Oh, I’m just an eternal student!
is met with the inevitable Oh…studying what?
but Bioinformatics…and Theoretical Systems Biology…
returns a quizzical look:
(_Bio – informatics?_)
Where do I go from there?
I typically resort do – It’s like computers, but for biologists. I’m a biologist, so this year I’ve got to learn computing.
If my new acquaintance’s eyes have not yet glazed over, and they want to know what you can do with bio-, bio-, bio-what-was-it-you-said-again?, my favourite example is
You know those whizzy 3D pictures you see of proteins, or viruses, or molecules, sometimes on the news, or in the paper?
(For an example, see the ‘cool bit’ on Stephen’s video)
Figuring out what those structures look like, from what we know about proteins, now that is a classic problem in bioinformatics.
I’m not sure that this doesn’t leave some people with the impression that I’m some kind of graphic designer.
But other summaries of what bioinformatics is, or what bioinformaticians do, don’t seem to get it right either.
We deal with big biological data sets.
We use computers to study biological problems.
Perhaps it will be easier to explain (although perhaps harder) once I am working on a project, not preparing (or trying to prepare) assignments in Java or Python.
Or perhaps I should adopt the strategy favoured by him indoors.
I just say I’m a pilot.