101 questions with a bioinformatician #33: Sarah Teichmann

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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.

Sarah Teichmann is a Group Leader at the European Bioinformatics Institute and a Senior Group Leader at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute — the Genome Campus (at Hinxton, UK) is one of those strange places where you can walk 10 meters and become a different (and more senior) person!

Her research focuses on elucidating the principles of protein structure evolution, higher order protein structure and protein folding. She also has a longstanding interest in understanding gene expression regulation. As part of her work, she is involved with developing and maintaining a number of useful bioinformatics resources including the 3D Complex database.

Sarah was a recent recipient of the the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Gold Award for her use of 'computational and experimental methods to better understand genomes, proteomes and evolution'. She was also recently interviewed by CrossTalk (the blog of Cell Press): The Unstoppable Sarah Teichmann on Programing, Motherhood, and Protein Complex Assembly. I particularly liked Sarah's general advice to junior scientists:

Follow your heart and work on things you are excited about and enjoy. Life is too short—and academic careers too unpredictable—to settle for anything less. Try to work with people who are reasonable and considerate of others, yet driven and focused, and generous in investing time and resource to projects and careers of lab members and colleagues.

You can find out more about Sarah by visiting her group's website. And now, on to the 101 questions...

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

The data deluge! So much and so many kinds of biological data — ranging from all the versions of next-generation sequencing data to protein structures — it is such a gift. As computational biologists, we are in an unprecedented position to make new discoveries by mining this data, and we’re all having a ball.

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

I’m thinking hard to come up with something. One issue that has always puzzled me is why mainstream journals don’t recognise the value of pure theoretical and computational biology. The prediction of the structure of the double helix was recognised with a Nobel Prize, and celebrated more than the Franklin/Wilkins crystal structure. Predictions are generally given scant notice, and the experimental validation (often years later) is considered the key achievement. This strikes me as incongruous.

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 programming and computer science seriously, and get some formal training in it.

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

R came after my time as a hands-on researcher (I’m more of a 90s Perl girl) but it seems to have revolutionised how quickly people can implement methods and visualise data. I also like the fact that there are now notebook-style ways of documenting whole workflows in R and Python. This can be included as supplementary material in publications and should help in making analyses easily reproducible by others.

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?

Please can I choose three? A then U then G codes for "go bioinformatics" ☺