101 questions with a bioinformatician #31: Morgan Taschuk

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.

Morgan Taschuk is a Senior Manager for Genome Sequence Informatics at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR). She manages the production sequence analysis team to analyse all of the sequence data sequenced at OICR, resulting in the generation of alignment files, variant calls, QC metrics and other bountiful amounts of sequence data for OICR researchers and collaborators.

She recently wrote a great blog post regarding the (sometimes contentious) issue of Biologists vs Bioinformaticians. Definitely worth a read. Morgan has also recently started to assemble a Twitter list of Women in Bioinformatics, now up to 179 members. I'm sure she would like to make that list even longer, so please let her know of any omissions.

You can find out more about Morgan by visiting her Modern Model Organism blog, or by following her on twitter (@morgantaschuk). And now, on to the 101 questions...

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

There's always something more to learn. I'm spending a lot of time with our genomics lab recently and learning about how lab processes impact our data fascinates me. Bioinformatics skills are usually in demand so I also get to work with a wide variety of people with different questions and problems and have to stretch my brain to apply myself.

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

Often people write their own scripts or software instead of looking for something that already exists out there. Not only is it wasted effort for very similar results, it sabotages any attempt to standardize across the field. Open-source software is there for everyone to change and improve. Why not build on a foundation instead of digging the hole yourself?

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?

Since nobody can tell you what bioinformatics is, it's up to you to define it. I spent a long time fighting with imposter syndrome, not just because I felt inadequate but also because I was called a bioinformatician when I didn't fit the classical model. Nobody fits the classical model these days. Thinking about this question actually inspired me to write a blog post about the difference between bioinformaticians and computational biologists. Judging from the feedback on Twitter and the blog, the problem of defining what a bioinformatician is still really sticks in people's throats.

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

SAMtools. It's an amazing piece of very stable, utilitarian, open source code that forms the backbone of most sequencing pipelines.

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 struggled the most with this question! Y, because 'pyrimidine' is a pretty word and so Y not.