Case study

Clinical scientist (bioinformatics) — Jes Adams

Jes works in a busy NHS laboratory, analysing and assessing data that directly affects the health and wellbeing of patients. Find out more about her training and the role of a clinical scientist working in bioinformatics

What degree did you study?

I graduated with an undergraduate integrated Masters in marine biology from the University of Southampton. I went on to complete the three-year Scientist Training Programme (STP) in clinical bioinformatics (genomics), which included work-based learning at Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust and study for an MSc from The University of Manchester.

How did you get your job?

I applied for a job in the Exeter Clinical Laboratory International, an NHS laboratory in the hospital I was training in, during my last year of the STP and was successful.

What's a typical working day like?

It's easiest to describe by splitting my workload into routine service work and development projects.

Routine service work includes processing genomic data for our next generation sequencing tests through our bioinformatics pipelines and carrying out data analysis to aid our genomic scientists in finding a diagnosis for our patients.

Development projects tend to be bigger pieces of work that aim to improve the way we deliver our services and workflows. This could be anything from writing a new pipeline, to assessing and implementing new bioinformatics tools or developing databases to store and handle the huge amounts of data we process on a daily basis.

My team also have weekly meetings to discuss and share issues, best practices and progress on current projects.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Knowing that the work I do is directly benefiting patients and can have huge impacts on their treatment plans and quality of life. It's also such an interesting field of science and we are learning more about it every day, which is very exciting.

What are the challenges?

It's the flip side of knowing how important what we do is for patients: the data we handle and analyse is personal and sensitive and there is no room for error. We also have strict turnaround times, which can lead to a feeling of pressure.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My undergraduate degree thesis involved creating a bioinformatics pipeline for population genomics analysis. This was my first introduction to the world of bioinformatics.

My postgraduate degree in clinical science is directly tailored to working as a clinical bioinformatician. The University of Manchester work closely with the National School of Healthcare Science to ensure the syllabus is relevant to all aspects of a clinical bioinformatics job.

How has your role developed?

I've seen the role of clinical bioinformatician become more established and well-known since I started my training around three-and-a-half years ago. Within my department the bioinformatics team has doubled in size and we have become a go-to resource for scientists within the department for troubleshooting, data analysis and computational work.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

Pick a Masters that directly translates to a job role. A Masters that is tailored to a specific job or offers some sort of placement will enable you to learn far more about the role you want when you’re qualified. This means you get the academic element and real-world experience at the same time and I think experience is really attractive to employers.

What's your advice for those wanting to get into this job?

  • Understand the role of a bioinformatician - as well as the bigger picture of how they fit into the workflow of genomic testing and how genetic diagnoses impact patients. Having a good understanding of the role will help you decide if it's definitely for you, and your enthusiasm will show in your application.
  • Learn to code - it's something you will have to learn in your training anyway, so having a head start will make your life easier, as well as making you a more attractive candidate in your application. Even if you don't want to do bioinformatics, datasets in all the sciences are getting bigger and bigger to the point where we need to use computers to carry out analyses.
  • Get experiences outside of the university bubble - whether that's working, volunteering or taking part in sports, etc. It shows wider interests and will give you a wealth of transferrable skills that you can talk about in your applications and interviews. Focus particularly on skills and experience relating to the NHS values and standards.

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