I guess I’ve been around bioinformatics for the best part of 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen almost no improvement in the way biologists handle and use data. If anything I’ve seen a decline, perhaps because the data have become larger and more complex with no improvement in the skills base.
It strikes me when I read questions at Biostars that the problem faced by many students and researchers is deeper than “not knowing what to do.” It’s having no idea how to figure out what they need to know in order to do what they want to do. In essence, this is about how to get people into a problem-solving mindset so as they’re aware, for example that:
- it’s extremely unlikely that you are the first person to encounter this problem
- it’s likely that the solution is documented somewhere
- effective search will lead you to a solution even if you don’t fully understand it at first
- the tool(s) that you know are not necessarily the right ones for the job (and Excel is never the right tool for the job)
- implementing the solution may require that you (shudder) learn new skills
- time spent on those skills now is almost certainly time saved later because…
- …with a very little self-education in programming, tasks that took hours or days can be automated and take seconds or minutes
It’s good (and bad) to know that these issues are not confined to Australian researchers: here is It’s time to reboot bioinformatics education by Todd Harris. It is excellent and you should go and read it as soon as possible.