Leon van Mierlo, Student

Portrait of Leon van Mierlo

 "The study is more than just bioinformatics, it is also about a general way of using computational tools to analyse data effectively."

What makes this programme unique in your eyes?

The programme offers a unique combination between biology, computer sciences and data sciences. The programme does a really good job at fostering the collaboration between these fields and you get a deep understanding of the biological concepts but also gain proficiency in computational techniques.

Are there any misconceptions about this programme, can you name them?

The study is a bioinformatics study, but it is also much more. For example, you learn how to handle big datasets, this is applicable to much more than just biological data such as DNA or gene information. The programme also involves significant amount of computer science and data analysis in general. So, the study is more than just bioinformatics, it is also about a general way of using computational tools to analyse data effectively.

What is your favourite subject of this programme? Could be a course, a project, an assignment, the thing you like most?

I like really liked the AI course called Basic Machine Learning. I liked this course is because I am interested in AI in general and I think AI is going to play a bigger role in bioinformatics and understanding diseases on an DNA-level. So, learning about AI and seeing it grows in this field is really fascinating.

What do you think the future looks like for you?

I hope that in a few years I will work as a Data Scientist in a leading biotech company. This seems like a really good job for me. This can however switch for example if I find a good PhD position that really suits me. In even more years, I would like to have my own company in the bioinformatics field.

Emmy Wesdorp, alumnus Bioinformatics Profile

"Because of the Bioinformatics Profile, I now even consider the transition to become a fulltime computational biologist"

After finishing my Bachelor’s in Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Utrecht, I started with the Master’s Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences, which I combine with the Bioinformatics Profile.

During my major research project my main focus was on wet-lab experiments, but I was also motivated to learn how to analyze the next-generation sequencing data that would be generated in the lab. This was a challenge, since I didn’t have any programming experience. The Bioinformatics Profile gave me the opportunity to take basic courses in this direction, such as Introduction to R, Python, and Bioinformatics for the Life Sciences. Through these courses I became familiar with the concepts and could implement this new skillset to perform some basic analysis on a CRISPR/Cas9 screen during my first internship. After taking more advanced omics courses (i.e. Advanced Omics for the Life Sciences and Analytics Algorithms for Omics), I got the opportunity to work with ChIP-seq and RNA seq datasets and perform more complex CRISPR screen analyses at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Basel.

In my opinion, the Utrecht Bioinformatics Center (UBC) has set up a unique profile to gain programming experience and expand your bioinformatics skills set. The courses cover a broad range of subjects, are given by experts in their field, and challenge you to implement the new knowledge in your own research project. For example, the Research Data Management course offers you the opportunity to build a SQL database for your own research project.

I really enjoyed the courses, seminars and symposia as well as the hands-on work. Therefore, I even consider the transition to become a fulltime computational biologist in the future, something I would never have thought of when starting my Master’s.

Sebastiaan de Graaf, alumnus

“Bioinformatics inspired me to expand the toolbox regarding biological data analysis”

A key component of any scientific research is data analysis, and of course biology is no different in this respect. While analyzing my datasets during my bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences I found that trivial tasks during the analysis process could be incredibly time consuming. Moreover, many of the presented tools were used as black boxes, which created vague conclusions about my data as my understanding of their inner workings was insufficient.

The Bioinformatics courses offered me the knowledge to understand the tools involved in biological data analysis, but also inspired me to expand the toolbox using more generic knowledge of programming and algorithms. By offering a quick introduction into key concepts before letting you compose your own curriculum besides the mandatory internships, you quickly get a feel for both theoretical and practical skills needed in this field. Utrecht University has a wide choice of available groups where you can perform your projects and you are encouraged to participate in an active manner, either locally or abroad.

As Utrecht University actively participates in research on the cutting edge of biology and bioinformatics, finding internships is greatly facilitated. By focusing on internships, you are assured of relevant experience in the field, while at the same time creating a network that can be helpful in finding a job/PhD position after graduation.

Bioinformatics has emerged relatively recently as a discipline, and this Master’s programme offers a great chance to step in at the initial phase. I am convinced that in a few years bioinformatics will be as integrated into many other fields as genomics, and that makes it such an exciting field. Like any IT-related field, new developments are taking place at an incredible pace, so there is always something new to learn: be it a new tool, framework, type of experimental data or algorithm.