As biotech or life science students in India, we get a very small exposure to Math, Coding, etc. in our Bachelor’s curriculum. In this post, I am sharing my career journey, initial struggles, and my personal roadmap of making my transition from biotechnology to data science (or biological data science).
My Initial Years
From my school days onwards, I was interested in the genetics and biology of microorganisms and how these can be used to manufacture products for human use. This idea prompted me to take up biotechnology (B. Tech) at VIT University, India.
During my 10+2 level, I had all the four science subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics. I had more inclination towards chemistry and physics than biology hence biotech was a preferred choice to medicine.
There are several problems that Biotech students face in India. I would also suggest up a B.Tech course is comparatively better than taking up a B.Sc. course in biotechnology as the former provides more versatility.
Undergraduate experience at VIT
VIT is one of the best places to study B. Tech biotech in India due to its international connections and international outlook. Overall, I would say that VIT provides the students with all the opportunities one can think of for a biotech undergraduate; provided that the student is willing to learn and apply that knowledge.
The curriculum is a bit rigorous, so it is not for the faintest of heart! All the semesters are filled with a lot of exams, quizzes, assignments, and projects.
The campus is one of the finest in the country with 320+ acres of space filled with lush green open spaces, academic buildings, and on-campus halls of residence a.k.a. hostels. The quality of the food served in the mess is good, but the taste is not that great, so most of the hostellers prefer to eat outside campus twice or more per week. The management is inflexible with respect to discipline maintenance and takes strong action against anyone who does not abide by their laws.
Preparation for Masters Abroad
The preparation for my Masters abroad started in the pre-final year; from the sixth semester of B. Tech to be precise.
Applying to foreign universities is a lengthy and tedious affair. The process requires guidance and mentorship from counselors and academicians to help the students in deciding the future path.
Luckily, VIT provides these services on-campus for the students. Only a handful of colleges do it in India. Thus, for Vitians getting an offer from a top university becomes a regular affair provided they had worked hard in the preceding years.
There are certain aspects that should be critically understood before applying; all the students should try to project the honest version of themselves and what they are capable of and should refrain from manipulated or falsified information. I will discuss in detail the application process in a different blog post.
Masters in UK after B. Tech Biotechnology
What motivated me to pursue M.Sc. Biochemical Engineering at UCL?
UCL is ranked among the top 10 universities in the world, and especially their biochemical engineering department is regarded as one of the best in Europe. The department is involved in active research of vaccines, proteins, and drug development, this gives the student ample exposure to real-world research projects.
These exposures make the student more aware and equip them with the latest industrial training. The network of UCL is vast and widespread, which is vital for any student to develop their career and alumni support. These are some of the many factors which made me choose UCL over other colleges.
What is Biochemical Engineering, and where do these engineers work?
Biochemical engineering is a multidisciplinary subject and encompasses chemistry, biology, mathematics, and problem-solving, At the heart of it is problem-solving, the work of biochemical engineers ranges from climate change to COVID-19 vaccine production!
From a biotech’s point of view, Biochemical Engineering involves large-scale production and research of drugs, proteins, therapeutics, and vaccines. Along with these, we have a specific engineering component that deals with the design of an industrial production facility.
Biochemical engineers are also trained in business knowledge so that they can be good managers to run these companies. Everyone will realize the importance of it in our current society. To feed, treat, and supply goods of human use to this ever-growing population we need to scale up each process to increase production. Biochemical engineering has it all.
I feel that this branch of science enables us to learn, understand and apply scientific knowledge for the well-being of humankind. Also, this will enable students to contribute a small amount towards society in terms of some products, which will benefit fellow humans.
Life in the United Kingdom and UCL for international students; My perspective and experience
The UK is one of the most sought-after places for international students to undertake formal education. Since this country hosts some of the world’s best and top universities and the visa process is quite simple as compared to other countries with no language barrier for Indians.
Overall, London is a great city to live in with all types of facilities available at hand. Hence, staying there won’t be a problem. Being a cosmopolitan city, everyone can find food, places, and people from their country; especially there is a very big Indian community thriving there prosperously so as an Indian student one will face the least number of problems.
London is a very expensive city, thus cost calculation is crucial for every student. A wide range of accommodation options is available for students which suits almost all budget types. Along with it, one can find the endless number of student discounts throughout the academic year which also enables the student to save money on expenses.
London is the only city in the UK that has the maximum number of colleges and universities thus a magnanimous student community exists. This is great for any student as these allow students to socialize and make good connections with fellow students and people from the industries. Read more on finding jobs in London.
The Job Market in the UK for International Students; My experience and insights
The job market in the UK is competitive for all students; be it national or international as the brightest and the best gets selected at the top universities in the UK. So, for a good and high-paying job the competition is always high. Hence, a candidate should possess the necessary skill set to be ahead of the competition.
On the other side, after the Brexit, the status of European students have changed to international which is a sign of relief to the Indian students. Since after this there won’t be any benefit for the hiring company if they hire any EU student. So international students especially non-EU can get this benefit and apply for a better and higher number of jobs.
From June 2021, UK VI has also introduced the graduate scheme route visa for all students who will be graduating after or in June 2021. They will be allowed to stay in the UK for an extra two years to gain experience and find work. This is a fantastic opportunity for all who are trying to develop their career in the UK. Thus, the job opportunities will be further increasing from 2021.
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Career upgrade and adaptation from Biotech to Biological Data science
My motivation to dive into data science and the Initial Challenges faced
Being from a non-quantitative background such as maths/computer science/economics or statistics, it is quite difficult to learn data science and implement it for real-world projects. But if one is determined to learn and grow, then nothing can stop that person from achieving the goals.
I had a special knack for learning programming and quantitative science. Therefore, I started learning a little back in my undergrad. But due to a lack of proper project and guidance, I couldn’t complete it properly.
My dive into the world of data science is due to the following reasons:
- Biology is the science of information and information comes from data thus in biology data generation forms the core. In the past few decades of modern biology there has been a tremendous amount of research which generated colossal amount of data.
- We need efficient tools to organize, store and analyse these immense data into human-readable information. To achieve this, task automation and large-scale analysis is needed, which is only possible by coding and developing or using machine learning algorithms. If a biologist can do this, then he can make more sense of the biological data as compared to someone from a non-biosciences background. These were my top reasons for getting into data science.
I had a modest base in coding, and I was a PCMB student during 10+2 so basic maths and stats were not a problem for me which I would say was an advantage for me, and it gave me a head start in the journey.
My Stint at IISc (Indian Institute of Science) Bangalore
On reaching IISc (Indian Institute of Science) I realized the use of data in analyzing biological problems to decide and make an informed decision about many biological processes.
The project in which I was working made me realize that learning to code should be one of the primary subjects in the biotech/bioscience curriculum, which is, unfortunately, missing in almost all undergraduate courses in the country. So, I had to learn it the hard way.
My Roadmap of Transition from Biotechnology to Data Science
As mentioned in the previous section I faced a lot of roadblocks while learning due to my background, but I followed a basic plan of learning which I made after going through some of the vlogs, blogs, and articles by data scientists and how they learned. Combining all of these, I prepared my own pattern of learning and used that pattern to gain knowledge.
The roadmap which I followed had the following topics in ascending order of learning:
- Programming language learning (basics to intermediate or just enough to get started)
- Basic statistics which are taught in the undergraduate level
- Doing projects which are simple and easy to understand.
- Learning from the roadblocks faced while doing the project.
Since I was not enrolled in a specific structured course, I had to design the structure for myself. I feel that a structured course would help a student learn faster and more effectively. I have also referred to free resources available on the internet to gain some more insights. You can also check out the curated list of best online courses for data science by Stoodnt.
Recommended Article: Roadmap of How to Learn Programming as a Biotechnology Student
Future Plans & Advice on Making Transition from Biotechnology to Data Science
The Croma Foundry
We established The Croma Foundry to counter the unavailability of a cost-effective standalone platform for vaccine and protein production. We are actively collaborating with synthetic biology companies like Ginkgo Bio-works and Twist Biosciences to establish the prototype system.
Importance of Data Science in Modern Biology & Medicine
With companies like Alpha fold defining near-perfect structures of all proteins, the next avenue is to be able to produce these in a fast and cost-effective manner for research, diagnostics, and therapeutic purposes. Our ultimate goal is to support these avenues through Protist engineering with the principles of synthetic biology and functional designing.
Current Gap in Biotech/Life Science Curriculum in India
Our experience in the functional design of synthetic biological circuits made us aware of the extensive data to be sifted through to finalize the best possible experimental plans and to optimize the system design.
Manual analysis of these extensive data collections is a very tedious and time-consuming process. To give a perspective – we could analyze certain design data in hours – error-free, which could manually take weeks to arrive at a conclusion.
My advice for making transition from Biotechnology to Data Science
The Life sciences curriculum generally available in our school and colleges normally only skim through the overviews of these analytic techniques without showing any practical excerpts to the students.
Hence, much more focus must be given to the data analysis to arrive at meaningful conclusions and to design biologically efficient systems.
The traditional biological science positions like individual — zoology, botany, even traditional genetic engineering, and crystallography techniques are going to lose their charm in the coming future because of the powerful computing systems existing now.
With the advent of quantum computing, increased focus will be given to direct data generation and its wide analysis. Hence, Biology students should focus on gaining multidisciplinary skills, especially in the field of biological data generation and biological data analysis.
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Featured Image Source: Northeastern University