101 questions with a bioinformatician #36: Alicia Oshlack

This post is part of a series that interviews some notable bioinformaticians to get their views on various aspects of bioinformatics research. Hopefully these answers will prove useful to others in the field, especially to those who are just starting their bioinformatics careers.

Alicia Oshlack is the Head of Bioinformatics at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (they don't like apostrophes) in Melbourne, Australia. Her research focuses on four main project areas: methods for analysing RNA-seq data, epigenomics, clinical genomics data analysis, and cancer genomics.

Before moving into the field of genomics, Alicia had a background in astronomy and her Ph.D. work concerned the structure of radio quasars. Not many bioinformaticians can claim to have published papers on the topic of estimating the mass of black holes!

You can find out more about Alicia by reading her Wikipedia page or by following her on twitter (@AliciaOshlack). I also encourage you to check out her must read article for fellow computational biologists: A 10-step guide to party conversation for bioinformaticians. And now, on to the 101 questions...

001. What's something that you enjoy about current bioinformatics research?

I love the pace at which things are changing in the field. There is always something new to work on and there are so many ways to contribute something useful to the research community. I also really love the balance between collaborative analysis on really interesting biological problems and doing careful methods development.

010. What's something that you don't enjoy about current bioinformatics research?

I get frustrated that I need to spend so much of my time convincing people that bioinformatics is a real scientific research discipline where we have deep scientific training and use our brains to solve scientific problems. Hopefully I will have convinced everyone in Australia soon.

011. If you could go back in time and visit yourself as a 18 year old, what single piece of advice would you give yourself to help your future bioinformatics career?

I did my PhD in astrophysics and I often wonder if I would have been better off doing a more relevant subject but I really appreciate the skills I learnt doing that. Within this I probably would tell myself to put a bit more focus on programming and do statistics instead of applied mathematics.

100. What's your all-time favorite piece of bioinformatics software, and why?

I think limma is amazing. Have you seen the users guide? I think it's 145 pages long and although it was originally developed for microarray analysis more than 12 years ago it has adapted to the sequencing revolution and is used more than ever now. I believe it is the most widely used bioconductor analysis package ever.

101. IUPAC describes a set of 18 single-character nucleotide codes that can represent a DNA base: which one best reflects your personality, and why?

I think S = G/C because I'm always a little bit biased.