CAREER GUIDE Friday, September 20, 2002, Chandigarh, India

A career in bioinformatics
epresenting a marriage of IT and biotechnology, bioinformatics is poised to be one of the most prodigious growth areas in the next two decades. Currently valued at around $ 1 billion, the industry is expected to grow exponentially over the next 10 years stretching the very boundaries of biotechnology —transforming an essentially lab-based science into an information science yielding rare biological insights and hastening the discovery of new drugs.


A career in bioinformatics

Representing a marriage of IT and biotechnology, bioinformatics is poised to be one of the most prodigious growth areas in the next two decades. Currently valued at around $ 1 billion, the industry is expected to grow exponentially over the next 10 years stretching the very boundaries of biotechnology —transforming an essentially lab-based science into an information science yielding rare biological insights and hastening the discovery of new drugs.

Biotech research generates such massive volumes of information, so quickly that we need newer and swifter ways of crunching the deluge of data (much of it hopelessly jumbled) churned out by the research labs. Mining, digitising and indexing this enormous quantum of data requires high-end computational technology and sophisticated software solutions.

For instance, it has taken over 10 years of round-the-clock study to merely map the human genome sequence, which involved identifying three billion base pairs of genes! In terms of volume, this information would fill over 2,000 standard PC diskettes!

And that is just the beginning. It is believed that in a few years, almost complete genetic information of all living organisms will become available through databanks for scientific research.

However, the real revolution in cell biology is not the decoding of genomes (the basic organic nuts and bolts i.e. the chemical composition of the DNA) in humans, plants animals or pathogens but observing the patterns of gene activity and interaction within these sequences.

Fathoming, classifying and mining this enormous quantum of data requires highly sophisticated software solutions like relational databases and reverse DNA synthesis. Global giants like Motorola, Oracle, and IBM are working towards this end. In fact, IBM is investing $100 million in building a supercomputer called Blue Gene for simulating protein processes and for evolving 3-D structural data to represent these processes.

Global IT majors like IBM, Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Oracle followed by our own TCS, Wipro, Satyam Computers, Spectramind E-services and several others are diversifying into this sector by teaming up with biotech and pharma companies like Monsanto, Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy’s Labs.

Globally, the biotech computing sector is estimated to touch a whopping $30 billion by 2003 and $ 60 billion in 2005. This in turn will create a corresponding boom in job opportunities. According to a white paper prepared for the Ministry of Information and Technology, the current size of the Indian bioinformatics industry is estimated to be between $500-$700 million.

Companies need cross-functional manpower at all levels — biologists with IT skills, or IT professionals with a serious interest in biology (just one of the skills is not enough) who can offer complete cost-effective database solutions to pharma and genome-based biotech companies all over the world.

While a Master’s or PhD is preferred at the science end, knowledge of Java, Unix, C, C++, RDBMS such as Oracle and Sybase, CORBA, Perl, CGI and web scripting.

The work

There is no such thing as a typical career path in this field. Bioinformaticians need to perform two critical roles: develop IT tools embodying novel algorithms and analytical techniques, and apply existing tools to achieve new insights into molecular biology.

However, you must remember that although powerful and highly specialised in itself, bioinformatics is only a part of biotechnology. Getting a DNA sequence coding for a new protein does not automatically make it useful. Unless this information is converted into useful processes and products, it serves no purpose. You can not, for instance, have a virtual drug or a virtual vaccine. We need real products. And we need to develop our own new molecules (particularly if we have to survive in the new IPR regime).

Pay at start

Starting with a package of Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000, you can expect Rs 20,000 with a couple of years of experience under your belt. In fact, the acute shortage of experts in the field has given rise to active poaching of scientists from premier research institutions. The going price for bioinformaticians with a year’s experience is upwards of Rs 50,000 per month. Starting salaries in the USA range between $60,000 and $ 90,000 for professionals with a couple of years of experience.

Postgraduate diploma courses:

Jawaharlal Nehru University, Bioinformatics Centre, New Delhi Advanced PG Diploma in Bioinformatics (teaching & research programme).

The course is aimed at training biologists (after MSc or equivalent in the areas of IT, computational biology, mathematical methods and structural bioinformatics).

IIT-Kharagpur Course: Master’s in Medical Sciences & Technology (3-yrs) to impart engineering skills to medical graduates and train them for state-of-the-art medical research in the frontier areas of bioinformatics, genetic engineering, immuno-technology, telemedicine, etc. Eligibility: MBBS (60% agg) with maths at 10+2. Selection: a 2-hr objective-type entrance test based on MBBS syllabus.

University of Pune, Bioinformatics Centre, Pune. Course: Advanced Diploma in Bioinformatics (1-yr) Eligibility: Master’s in Vet Sc, Agri, Pharma, MBBS, MCA, BE or BTech. (Reservation: 50% seats for SC/ST and 30% for women). Website:

Osmania University, PGRR Centre for Distance Education, Hyderabad 500007. Course: Postgraduate Diploma in Bioinformatics. Eligibility: Master’s degree (MSc or above) in any branch of biol/life/agri/pharma/

vet/medical/environ science, including biophysics (55%).

Amity Institute of Biotechnology, E 27 Defence Colony, New Delhi 110024(NOIDA & S Delhi Campus). PG Diploma in Bioinformatics (1-yr). Eligibility: BSc (Biotech/Comp Sc) / BCA Website:

University of Calcutta, Bose Institute, Bionformatics Centre, 92 Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road, Kolkata 700073. Course: Postgraduate Diploma in Bioinformatics. Eligibility: MSc (Biotech, Phys, Chem, Math, Microbiol, Botany, Zool, Agri, Vet Sc, MCA, BE/BTech, MBBS, or equiv (60% agg). Selection: Entrance test.

Madurai Kamraj University, Bioinformatics Centre, Madurai 625021(TN). Course: Postgraduate Diploma in Bioinformatics.

Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh.

Studying abroad

If you wish to pursue higher studies in bioinformatics in the USA, here are some of the universities to target:

Boston University, Stanford University, University of Washington, Washington University (St Louis), University of Pennsylvania, George Mason University, University of California (Santa Cruz), University of Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University.

Other key players in this sector: Kshema technologies, Strand Genomics (set up by 4 IISc Proffs).

Pervin Malhotra



Q What is the final decision regarding UGC NET for lectureship? Is it or is it not mandatory?

Sanjeev Bhatiya

A The issue of exemption from the NET has undergone several twists and turns in the past few years. In ’98, the UGC left the exemption issue open to the universities following which many amended their ordinances accordingly. However, in 2000, the UGC reversed its decision. Now that regulation has also been amended once again.

The NET has now been waived for all those who would have submitted their PhD on or before December, 2002, by the UGC (earlier, only those who had submitted their PhD thesis before 1993 were exempted).

In the case of MPhil, the earlier stipulation still applies. i.e. only those who completed their MPhil before ’93 are exempted.

However, those who fail to obtain their PhDs as well as those who did their MPhil after ’93 will have to take the NET.

Art & Design

Q After joining a fashion house or garment export firm as a trainee, where can I hope to be in the next 5-7 years?


A Once you have learnt the ropes and worked as a designer for a few years, you can hope to move up to the level of a Senior Designer. In this position you will lead and instruct a team of designers. You will “direct” their creativity by guiding them to deliver the customer’s specific style requirements. You will monitor their output and try to ensure that your team complies with the technical specifications and quality parameters.

You will analyse global trends while keeping a close eye on the market in general, and the competition in particular, in order to develop new designs.

As the Head Designer, you will plan the entire collection for forecasting next season and oversee production plus organise trade/ fashion shows.

Hotel Management

Q I am doing a diploma in hotel management (first year). I am not very interested in operations. Do you think there is a good career in the Front Office?

Kiran Munjal

A Give or take a little, your career path in the Front Office of a hotel will go along the following lines:

Management Trainee/Front Office Asst. (stipend approx Rs 5000-6000 p.m.) Starting out as a Duty Manager, . you will be put through on-the-job training round of the various Front Office departments.

Asst. Manager (Rs 16,000/- p.m.). You will be responsible for the functioning of a designated section (Reservation/Front Desk, etc). You will head a team of FOAs and co-ordinate with other units for customer care and guest relations.

Asst. Front Office Manager (Rs 22,000 p.m.)

Reporting to the Front Office Manager, you will now be in charge of personnel management and MIS of Front Office. You will supervise Asst. Managers involved in customer care and co-ordinate with other departments to ensure good occupancy for the hotel.

Front Office Manager (Rs 30,000 p.m.). Responsible for the entire functioning of the Front Office, you will supervise your team of managers and submit a monthly report on occupancy, room-wise revenue generation and related MIS to the GM.


Q After completing my BSc and a course in e-commerce I have been working as a web designer for a year. I want to now get ahead in my career and join a good company in a good position. But I don’t have any idea how to go about it.

Vipin Aggarwal

A One year is too little an experience in this field to look for a change.

Unless there are other factors such as the company’s financial health or lay-off plans etc, it is advisable to spend at least 2-3 years before changing your job.

I would therefore suggest that you concentrate on enhancing your skills in web designing as well as in web development (designing by itself is not enough).

Keep abreast of current technologies and gain as much varied experience as possible within your area of specialisation. At this stage of your career, the focus must be centered on learning. And the best way of learning is to master whatever you are doing in depth and not limit yourself to merely fulfilling the requirements of the task at hand. That is also the route to a better job in this field. Your proven on-the-job skills and relevant experience will count very highly when you apply for better jobs later.

The IT industry is beginning to look up and there will be enough opportunities for well-experienced professionals even if your company is unable to capitalise on your experience. However, do note the emphasis on “well”. The emphasis in the IT industry is now shifting to quality and not quantity.


1. Name the country’s first meteorological satellite that was launched recently.

2. After which Indian space scientist has the Srihari Kota Space Centre( SHAR) been renamed?

3. Which Indian city recently saw trial run of metro train?

4. Name the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq.

5. Which country is set to be displaced by India as world’s number one rice exporter, going by the current rice exports by the latter?

6. Who is the richest man in the USA with a fortune of $43 billion, according to the Forbes magazine?

7. Expand IIAS.

8. Who was recently chosen for the third Lal Bahadur Shastri Award for Excellence in Public Administration and Management Sciences for 2001?

9. What is the capital of Madagascar?

10. What is the name of Egypt’s largest pyramid?

11. When is the World Ozone Day observed?

12. Which South Korean city is going to host the Asian Games from September 29?

13. Who was the captain of the Indian hockey team in the recently concluded Champions Trophy in Germany?

14. How many Indian batsmen have scored successive centuries in three innings in Test cricket?

15. Which Pakistani batsman recently entered cricket record books as the first batsman to be given out lbw by the third umpire, in the ICC one-day tourney in Sri Lanka?


School address..............................

Winners of quiz 165. The first prize by draw of lots goes to Himanshu Kakkar, Class VIII-B, Little Flower Convent School, Sector 14, Panchkula.

Second: Arun Kumar, Class 9-B, Govt High School, Rajiana, PO 53 miles, Teh&dist Kangra(HP).

Third: Jatinderpal Singh, IX-D, Little Flower Convent School, Civil Lines, Gurdaspur-143521, Punjab.

Answers to quiz 165: Johannesburg; Kyoto Protocol; Karachi&Chashma; George Fernandes; South Korea; People for Ethical Treatment of Animals; Real Madrid; Sunil Gavaskar; Dublin; J&K; Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment; Venus; Volleyball; Tennis; Bula Chowdhury.

Cash awards of Rs 400, 300 and 200 are given to the first, second and third prize winners, respectively. These are sent at the school address.

Tarun Sharma