Message from the Director
A Very Exciting Time to be in Bioinformatics & Computational Biology
Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB) as a discipline lies at the intersection of Biology, Computer Science, and Mathematics. Bioinformatics involves the collection, management, and analysis of biological data, from genetic sequences to characteristics of entire populations. Computational Biology is the development of mathematical and computational models of biological systems, from the network of proteins functioning within a single cell to the spread of infectious diseases in a population. Over the past two decades, researchers in bioinformatics and computational biology have been at the forefront of the great changes in our understanding of how biology, and indeed life, works. The completion of the sequencing of the human genome has opened a window into a universe with billions of “stars”, each of which participates in the many processes involved in the creation and development of human life. Unfortunately, to date we only understand a small fraction of these processes; there is so much more left to be discovered, which is why it is an exciting time to be in the BCB field.
Faculty at WPI have been doing research and advising projects in the areas of bioinformatics and computational biology for more than 15 years. The BCB degree program, which started in 2010, was the result of a shared vision of where the field is evolving and where the most critical needs will be for scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in the future. We feel that Biology as a field is becoming increasingly digital, and that the Life Sciences are becoming some of the most important application domains for mathematicians and computer scientists. We designed WPI’s BCB Program to educate students to feel comfortable in the language, concepts, and techniques of three distinct disciplines: biology, mathematics, and computer science. We also developed courses that overlap two or more of these disciplines, each centered on different aspects of the theories, concepts, techniques, and tools of bioinformatics and computational biology. Yes, the BCB program is more challenging than studying within a single discipline, but we feel the rewards are greater for the motivated student.
Opportunities for projects, research, internships, and careers in BCB abound. We have a vibrant collaboration with researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, just two miles from WPI, who support and guide both undergraduate and graduate projects and internships. Many biotechnology companies are eager to participate in this program, with an eye not only on having WPI students and faculty participate in their current research and development, but also in recruiting our graduates. We expect the demands for hiring to far outstrip the supply of skilled graduates for many years to come.
Elizabeth F. Ryder, PhD
Director, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology