[BiO BB] college

Keith Callenberg keithcallenberg at gmail.com
Thu Apr 30 05:07:37 EDT 2009

Hey Eli,

I'm in a computational biology PhD program at CMU-Pitt and I was
asking your exact questions about 6 years ago. I ended up doing a
computer science undergrad, but I'm not sure that I'd recommend that.
I think it would be best to start with your 2nd and 3rd questions,
because I think the most important thing is what you picture yourself
doing. You've probably seen the Bioinformatics FAQ [1]. It has some
explanation of terms like computational biology, but you'll notice
that people disagree over these definitions. At least here in
Pittsburgh, "bioinformatics" signifies a focus on the biological data
and how to manage and extract information from it, whereas
"computational biology" is a broader term that signifies a focus on
the biological process that is creating the data [2]. I have heard
people consider the two fields the complete opposite of those
descriptions as well, but whatever you want to call them, the question
remains whether you'd like to target biological processes or the
practical problem of managing the information that comes from
biological processes. For the latter, my opinion is that a computer
science degree with some good statistics and biology courses mixed in
wouldn't be a bad setup. For the former, I think it is a bit trickier
and more based on the type of biology you're interested in. For
instance if you are interested in structural biology, a solid
background in physics and biochemisry is very helpful. Whereas if
you're more interested in genomics, machine learning and statistics
are essential.

My personal opinion is that unless you are an extraordinarily active
and energy-filled person (and I do know one such person who was able
to do this), it is difficult to be able to get a strong background in
all of the fields that a bioinformatics undergrad degree dips into.
You just become spread too thin. A common perception that I agree with
is that it is best to get a fundamental degree like biology, math,
computer science, statistics, physics, biochem (if you can find one
that has a perspective you find natural) and then augment it with a
few courses in the stuff you're missing... at least if you're aiming
for grad school.

For your first question, they will all care at least a bit about your
SATs. You might be able to find some indicators at www.review.com or
elsewhere about schools that tend to use SATs less, but I'm not sure
how valid those are. If you can afford it, I would just write some
good essays and apply to as many schools as you can to increase your

good luck!

[1] http://wiki.bioinformatics.org/Bioinformatics_FAQ
[2] http://www.compbio.cmu.edu/background.html

On Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 3:42 PM, Eli Draizen <EliDraizen at drewschool.org> wrote:
> Hello-
> I am not sure if this is the right place to post this but I do not know
> who else to ask. I am currently applying to college and want to study
> bioinformatics. I have a few questions which my college advisors cannot
> answer:
> 1)       Which schools have the best programs and do not care about
> SAT's?
> 2)       Would it be better to double major in biology and computer
> science and then be more focused in grad school?
> 3)       What is the difference between the major's bioinformatics and
> computational biology?
> Thanks for you time,
> Eli Draizen
> _______________________________________________
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> BBB at bioinformatics.org
> http://www.bioinformatics.org/mailman/listinfo/bbb

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