By Gary A. Krupnick
Department of Botany, NMNH, Smithsonian Institution, PO Box 37012, MRC 166, Washington, D.C., 20013-7012, U.S.A. firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) liaison with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 AIBS Council Meeting on December 8, 2015, at the Pew Charitable Trusts Conference Center in Washington, DC. The theme of this year’s council meeting was “Addressing Biological Informatics Workforce Needs,” and it focused on the role of scientific societies and their journals in the training, management, preparation, and integration of data and metadata in analyses and publication.
Guest speakers presented talks on training needs from academic, federal, and foundational perspectives; how to train for data intensive science; and lessons from national data initiatives on how to drive data integration forward. In discussions about training students, one speaker recommended that mentors prepare their students for multiple career pathways and to incentivize students for internships in industry. Teaching bioinformatics in a university setting should not just be about using programming tools but learning how to think about concepts of metadata. Another speaker explained how a major limiting factor in research progress is often a lack of expertise in how to handle and analyze data, suggesting that what needs to be taught is foundational skills and not just fundamental skills.
A suggestion that emerged from the meeting is that biological societies, such as ATBC, can contribute to the bioinformatics workforce needs by offering workshops at annual meetings. Most often workshops focus on specific skill sets, but what is needed is the pedagogic part – teaching the teacher who can then bring these skills back to the workplace or university to train their colleagues and students. Workshops on best practices are also needed—workshops that explain how to create metadata and how to make it manageable, discoverable and usable. ATBC annual meetings (including regional chapter meetings) are the ideal venue for such workshops.
The talks were followed by roundtable discussions on current and future challenges in bioinformatics: (1) what are biological societies doing now in bioinformatics and what can be done to benefit the research community? (2) how can we help address unmet biological workforce data training needs? (3) what roles should research funders play? and (4) can journals catalyze best practices? Some attendees suggested that a consensus statement that clarifies the actions and roles of federal agencies, universities, and foundations can lead to benefits in bioinformatics workforce needs, encourage new investments in data training, and provide a strong catalyst in data specialist career choices for students. Professional societies can play a major role in training the next generation of biologists in making, using, handling, and analyzing metadata.