Big Data and Jobs for Life Scientists

Posted in BioBusiness

Many recent articles in various publications including the lay media suggest that persons with quantitative skills and a firm grasp of the scientific method will be in high demand in the near future. This is because there is a current data surge coming from “sophisticated tracking of shipments, sales, suppliers and customers, as well e-mail, Web traffic and social network comments.” And, the quantity of business data has been estimated to double every 1.2 years!

According to a 2011 report Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity” put together by the McKinsey Global Institute, harvesting, managing, mining and analyzing “big new data sets” can lead to a new wave of innovation, accelerated productivity and economic growth. And, the place where this may be felt first is theUS healthcare system. The report asserts that better management of big data sets can lead to as much as $300 billion in savings. Also, American retail companies could possibly increase their operating profit margins by as much as 60 percent. However, one of the major hurdles to this paradigm shift is a talent and skills gap. TheUS alone will likely need 140,000 to 190,000 with expertise in statistical methods and data-analysis skills. McKinsey also notes that an additional 1.5 million data-literate manages will be required. Accordingly, “Every manager will really have to understand something about statistics and experimental design going forward,” noted one of the report’s authors.

As far as jobs for scientists in the healthcare realm are concerned, the report suggests that

“….the biggest slice of the $300 billion gain is expected to come from more effectively using data to inform treatment decisions. The tools include clinical decision support to assist doctors, and comparative effectiveness research to make more informed decisions on drug therapy.” That said, life scientists with backgrounds in statistical analyses, bioinformatics, genomics, public health, epidemiology and quantitative analysis will be ideal candidates for these new job opportunities.”

While these types of jobs (mainly health informatics) are certain to available in the future, it isn’t clear how soon. This is because the big-data trend has just begun and, according to economists, it may take years to recognize its financial advantages and benefits. In any event, it is something for life scientists who may be considering alternate career options, to think about. To that end, if you begin to train for these opportunities now, you may find yourself in the right place at the right time in the not-to-distant future.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

A Possible Dark Side of a Career in Big Data Management

Posted in Career Advice

For the past year or so, I have been touting the job opportunities in the field of “big data” in which massive amounts of personal data including medical information, social media usage, mobile device usage, buying behaviors, etc are accumulated, analyzed and used for marketing purposes. While there may be growing career opportunities for life scientists in the field, especially bioinformaticists, computational biologists and database managers, before you take the plunge you may want to read an article in today’s NY Times entitled “You For Sale: Mapping, and Sharing the Consumer Genome” (great title for us biologists).

The articles walks readers through how Acxiom —a 40 year old data mining company and the second largest provider of consumer information in the US—mines and “refines” (Acxiom executives call what they do, refining rather than mining”) personal information and sells it to paying customers. Admittedly, I previously knew little about how data mining algorithms work but I must say reading the article provided me with me insights and clarity about the pervasiveness and potential for misuse and abuse of the services and features offered by Acxiom and other companies of its ilk. BTW, the largest provider of data mining services in the US is Epsilon.

According to the article, “Acxiom maintains its own database on about 190 million individuals and 126 million households in theUnited States. Separately, it manages customer databases for or works with 47 of the Fortune 100 companies.” And, not surprisingly the company hires top talent from the software industry including its CEOScottE. Howe, previously a corporate vice President of advertising at Microsoft and Phil Mui, formerly group product manager for Google Analytics as it chief product and engineering officer.

There is little doubt that electronic healthcare records will help to improve patient access and health outcomes once it is fully implemented. And, the success of this new industry will be contingent upon hiring talented biologists, healthcare professionals and software engineers. But, for every benefit that a new technology can bestow upon humanity, there is always a down side.

To that point, it is important to get a complete picture of an industry before you make a decision about a career in it! If big data management is the direction that you want your career to take, then go for it but remember to keep your “eyes and ears open.”

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!



Statisticians and "Big Data" Analysts in High Demand

Posted in BioEducation

When I was a graduate student back in the dark ages, I took an advanced statistics course and then briefly worked in a laboratory where statistical analysis of data derived from animal models of disease (in this case the guinea pig model of tuberculosis) were essential. After leaving that lab, I developed an appreciation for the power of statistics (when appropriately designed according the laws of parametric statistics) and actually used statistical analyses of in vitro data for my PhD thesis. Unlike me, most of my contemporaries never understood statistics and thought that statistics can be used to manipulate data to confirm any hypothesis put forth by an investigator.

Imagine my surprise when I read in today’s NY Times that statistics are one of the hottest new career opportunities in technology and related industries. This is because billions of bytes of data (aka "big data sets")are generated daily and someone (usually a statistician or a person with knowledge of some arcane statistical analyses) is regarded to tease out trends and interpret the data. Companies like Google, Facebook, as wells as marketers, risk analysts, spies and companies that engage in competitive intelligence are desperately seeking new employees who understand applied statistic, analytics and trend analysis.

According to a recent LinkedIn survey, from 2009 to 2011 the number of new jobs with titles related to analytics grew 53%. Unfortunately, there are not enough trained or qualified persons available to fill these positions at most of these companies. Because of workforce shortages, universities like Stanford, Harvard and North Carolina State (NC State) have created graduate programs to train students in statistics and advanced analytics. 

Ninety per cent of NC State advanced analytic students (a 10 month program created in 2006) annually found jobs. The average graduate’s starting salary for an entry-level job is $73,000. Stanford and Harvard statistics department graduates head to Google, Wall Street and in many instances bioscience companies and start with salaries of over $100,000.

Not surprisingly, competition for entry to these programs is getting fierce. NC State takes only 40 new students per year in its program (185 applicants last year). Moreover, this year, Stanford received over 800 applications for 60 openings in next’ years class; nearly twice the number of applications that it received three years ago.

Like it or not “big data” and analytics are de rigueur and persons with advanced analytics training may be the new rock stars. That said if you like statistics or love to look for trends in large data sets then a career in analytics may be right for you. Now, you have to figure out where to get the training.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!.