Bioinformatics and Computational Biology are two extremely related fields, and as such, many people in the scientific and academic worlds will refer to these two areas interchangeably. But is this truly accurate? Are these fields so close together, that we can lump them into one big category, or are there significant differences that need to be discussed and understood? In this article, we'll go over the commonalities and differences that these two fields face, and which path would be most suitable for you, depending on your research interests.
Difference Between Computational Biology and Bioinformatics: What's the Major Difference?
Like we mentioned above, to some people, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics hold no difference. To other, such as Dr. Russ Altman of Standford University, there is a very concrete difference between the two. He believes that Bioinformatics is where you create the tools, software, and algorithms that can be used to handle and work with large biological data systems. Likewise, in his mind, Computational Biology is all about learning and study biology, by using the computational tools and software made by Bioinformaticians.
So, according to Dr. Altman's definition, if you're somebody who primarily enjoys being on the creation sides of things, and wanting to add to the available tools and resources for people to analyze their biological data with, Bioinformatics would be the path for you. But, if you'd rather use existing computational tools to study and understand biology better, then you'd probably want to go towards Computational Biology.
Computational Biology vs Bioinformatics Academic Programs
Luckily for many of you who go the Computational Biology and Bioinformatics academic route, most graduate programs combine these two fields into a one-degree program, which allows you more flexibility in figuring out exactly which niche fits you best. But what happens if you're interested in programs that are either Bioinformatics or Computational Biology instead of both? Which one should you choose?
If this is your situation, you shouldn't make a decision based upon the name. Instead, look at the faculty members of each program, and see what kind of research they are doing. You might find that a program that is Bioinformatics-based has a lot of Computational Biology research, and vice versa. By researching faculty, and the type of research that is being conducted at prospective universities, you can get an idea of what kind of research you might be involved in if you choose to go to that specific school.
Which One Should You Pursue?
Choosing whether you want to become a Bioinformatician or a Computational Biologist comes down to figuring out whether you want to be at the forefront of creating computational software for biology or if you'd rather be using these tools to conduct your research. But just remember, things aren't as cut and dry as we've made it out to be, and you still may see job positions or academic programs use these two terms interchangeably. Instead of relying on the title to help decide where you wnat to go, figure out exactly what your research interests are and which program or position does the best job at utilizing them.
About the Author
Basil Khuder is the director and founder of YDSOA. He started YDSOA in 2015, hoping to create an online community for those new to the fields of Data Science and Informatics. When he's not running the organization, he's busy with his research and studies as a Doctoral Bioinformatics student at Iowa State University. You can follow Basil through any of his social media accounts.