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I am a software developer looking for a new set of challenges. I am therefore seriously considering undertaking study towards a Masters of Science in Bioinformatics (I have a bachelor degree in Comp Sci).

I have done extensive reading on the field and find it fascinating. In a perfect world this would be the only consideration. However, I am a little concerned about the economics of such a move.

From talking with people associated with the degree, it looks like salaries in Bioinformatics are about half as much as one would make as an experienced software developer in industry. This would amount to a halving of my wage and all the lifestyle changes that entails.

From my reading it appears that most bioinformatics is done in academia, or government / grant supported research labs.

Is there much opportunity for bioinformaticists to work within industry (pharma, biotech)? Are industry wages higher? Are these opportunities growing?

The people I have spoken to have quoted $50k - $60k for entry level (Masters) positions (in Australia). To go much higher seems to require a phd or post-doc. Does this sound accurate? What is the trend for wages in this field?

It seems that almost all the software used in bioinformatics is open source. I agree that this is excellent for research, but does this come at the exclusion of commercial software? Is there opportunity to build commercial software for bioinformatics?

Finally, what opportunities exist for bioinformaticists to make a comparable income to software developers working in industry?


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Have you sought indirect opportunities in the field? The Kerrighed project, for instance, is an ideal HPC for someone doing research in that field. If you understand the discipline and can actually write software, why not seek a company that caters to writing software for that discipline? Have your cake and eat it, too. –  Tim Post Nov 10 '10 at 8:50

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I'm writing from the perspective of the U.S. Yes, there are bioinformatics positions in industry, it has become an essential position/group for any pharmaceutical development effort. It's also important for molecular diagnostics and the oncoming wave of whole genome sequencing companies. I'm not sure how the supply and demand for these positions is working out right now, on the commercial side, inside pharma particularly, R&D budgets have been tight and getting tighter.

If you want to have a higher salary range, and in particular, you want to move up the management ladder in any scientific org, a PhD may be a must-have.

To get an idea of salaries, one source is here: http://www.genomeweb.com/8th-annual-salary-survey It is possible you might need to register on the site to get access. Unfortunately, they are grouping scientists and programmers together.

Otherwise I suggest searching the web for "bioinformatics salaries". Glassdoor is an interesting site for getting data on salaries.

Re open source and commercial, yes, there are commercial organizations doing bioinformatics software. Some of that is US-based, some offshore (India, Russia in particular). A lot of the commercial software development is in companies that are making products where software is part of the solution, e.g., gene expression chip makers.

One last comment - try to dig in a little bit to understand what it is that you like best about the field. There is a lot of space, from algorithms around 'omics analysis, to bio/lab data management, to modeling and systems biology. Depending on which of these you are most interested in would direct you toward a grad program and where you might go after school.

Good luck! -- Alex

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