Making a living with bioinformatics

Please do not find this offensive in any way. Please do not get discouraged by this post. I mean nothing bad by this post. I just need some advice as lately (for a year now) I am finding it very difficult to “see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

I am what you might call a bioinfo expert with 15+ years of experience in various omics (wes,wgs, wga, chip-seq, rna-seq, etc.) disciplines, alignment and alignment free sequence comparison and search strategies, population genomics, clinical research, statistics, information and partition theory and as of recently I have been heavily involved in distributed computing and machine learning. I’ve been working and developing on many different projects but this post is not to advertise myself, rather to get some out-of-the-box opinion on what to do next.

Actually the question is: Were can a guy like myself find some decent work? When I say decent I mean work that can provide enough income to support my family of four. During my careerer I went through all phases of what a typical bioinformatician goes through, from being enthusiastic and advocating “follow your passion, not just the money” completing the circle by being realistic “follow the money, scr.. the passion”. But I never gave up on bioinformatics and still refuse to. So any suggestions are more than welcomed. Limiting factors are:

  1. job needs to be related to bioinformatics
  2. job needs to pay enough so I can support my family
  3. job needs to be remote (because of my family I cannot move – I’m an EU citizen )

I’ll list the things I tried over the years and those I am still working on and why these did/did not work.

  1. Academia: PostDoc positions – though it is nice to be in academia and one does not have to do a lot in comparison to a private sector, salary is way too low and trying to provide for a family on a postdoc salary within EU is simply impossible (I’ve tried that in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and Portugal). I stopped pursuing academic career once my wife threaten to leave me if I take one more postdoc. I mean postdoc is ok if you are young and your family is you and your wife. Once kids come along, medical bills go through the roof and you do not have too much time for research. So, long story short I saw no point in staying academia so I left.

  2. Freelancing: This is the biggest scam of them all. I don’t know where startups get their money for a platforms supporting freelancing. The amount of work put with freelancing in self-marketing and execution of a contract is equal to that in academia and industry combined (if you wish to make a decent living from that). Maybe other areas are more lucrative but with bioinformatics you cannot make a living freelancing. People, especially in academia are used to getting everything cheep in form of a phd students that execute a given task for 6 years (something an expert could do in 6 months) and then try to convey this attitude toward freelancers.

  3. Industry R&D: Done that for 2 years. Industries are large organizations that thrive only due to marketing and their size. It can easily pass months before you get access to data and once you do you have to work day and night to finish a task on time (otherwise an army of bioinformaticians is waiting in line to replace you). Again if you have a family, financially you are ok but then you cannot do what you enjoy, you have very little time to be with your family and the amount of stress due to deadlines and pitching projects up the command chain is much higher than in options 1 an 2.

  4. Startup: I have two startups today. Both specializing in different fields associated to bioinformatics research. In summary: a lot of free time, no deadlines, intellectually challenging (meaning: not boring! ), but also no real money. Everything you make has to stay in the company for reinvesting and profits are usually harvested at the end of the year. I mean both companies are well funded so the true asset is in the company itself, which if i find a buyer will bring significant profits, but for now I have a company in which everyone else is getting paid except the owner. So, is it sustainable, hm maybe in few year it will be but until then I need to make some serious cash. Ergo my primary income at this point comes from consulting.

  5. Consulting: Now this is really good for both family and finances. However, lately less and less people are request consulting services. Golden age of startups is slowing down in EU, reducing the need for consulting services. So I expect not to be making living out of that in the near future.

So this was my path (In the exact order as written). How do you guys make your living? Any out-of-the-box ideas? Or is everyone here under 30, single and in academia 🙂



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