101 questions with a bioinformatician #32: Aaron Quinlan

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.

Aaron Quinlan is an Associate Professor of Human Genetics and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Utah and the Associate Director of the USTAR Center for Genetic Discovery.

His research focuses on "developing and applying computational methods towards the understanding of genetic variation in diverse contexts". This work had led to Aaron's involvement in the development of many popular bioinformatics tools, with Bedtools being one of the most well known. I wish he had time to blog more, because then we could all enjoy more writing like this:

Have you ever been incensed by the ridiculous number of chromosome naming and ordering schemes that exist in genomics? If the answer is “no”, then either you are an incredibly patient person, you enjoy unnecessary chaos, or you just haven’t done any detailed analysis of genomics datasets.

You can find out more about Aaron by visiting his lab's website, or by following him on twitter (@aaronquinlan). And now, on to the 101 questions...

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

I come from a creative family and have always enjoyed building things. There is pure joy in having the power to conceive and apply an algorithmic idea that has the potential to improve our understanding of the biology of the genome and the genetic basis of disease.

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

The fashion.

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?

Take every math and statistics course possible and read constantly while you still have the time.

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

Without question, PolyBayes (Marth et al, 1999). I came to computational biology as a former software engineer without substantial training in biology. PolyBayes was the first Bayesian method for polymorphism detection and was written by my Ph.D. mentor, Gabor Marth. I spent much of my first year in graduate school dissecting the PolyBayes code (and the ACE file format)!!!) to understand the mathematic and data analysis strategies that were required at the time. That learning process has influenced much of the work I have done since.

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?

N, since I constantly feel as though I am doing everything while also doing nothing.


DVD bonus materials

KRB: Because of the relative brevity of this interview, I thought that I would also share a couple of answers that Aaron gave me to some of the questions I also include when asking people to do these interviews (this info sometimes helps me write my introductions):

0111. What is the correct way of describing your current position or title(s)

  1. Associate Professor of Human Genetics and Biomedical Informatics
  2. Associate Director of the USTAR Center for Genetic Discovery
  3. Sender of the emails and bringer of the donuts.

1001. In 1–2 sentences, describe what your role entails

Basically doing everything I can to not be a bottleneck for the people in my lab.