The forerunner of this programme was our 4-year PhD programme in Bioinformatics and Theoretical Systems Biology (2002-2012). Many of our students have obtained positions in academic research in the UK and overseas, including developing their own independent groups. Others have been involved in scientific administration, for example for the European Union, whilst some are working in the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors. Read what some of our former students say about why they joined that programme, how they the feel that the training really enabled them to acquire multidisciplinary skills in theoretical systems biology and bioinformatics, what they achieved during the programme, and how their subsequent careers have developed.
Dr Sara Dobbins
Although specialising in physics, completing my natural sciences degree at Cambridge in 2003, I had always felt torn between disciplines and a final year biological physics module first exposed me to the kind of numerical and computational approaches that people were applying to biological problems. The Wellcome Trust programme at Imperial offered me the chance to start my research career within a truly multidisciplinary learning environment with exposure to a wide range of world class research groups. My PhD was under the direction of Professor Sternberg and I studied protein structure. I explored the use of normal modes to model how proteins change shape, the results of which we published in PNAS. One factor which was key to my success and enjoyment of the programme was the breadth of background of the students which allowed us to really help and challenge each other. The excellent levels of funding allowed for great provision of equipment and plenty of opportunities to travel to conferences to present and network, a luxury not afforded to all PhD students.
Since graduating I have been working at the Institute of Cancer Research studying genetic predisposition to cancer. My research initially focussed on GWAS type studies of meningioma (Dobbins et al, Nature Genetics, 2011) and colorectal cancer (for example, Dunlop et al, Nature Genetics, 2012). More recently, as next generation sequencing technology has become affordable, I have worked with both whole genome and exome data (between two periods of maternity leave) aiming to decipher tumour development in numerous cancer types (for example Ma, Dobbins and Sherborne et al, PNAS, 2013). I am currently working on the analysis of 1000 colorectal germline exomes to identify genetic variants which may predispose an individual to the disease. The range of skills and contacts that I made within my time at Imperial have provided a great foundation for my career to date and I look forward to working collaboratively with the department in the future.
Dr Robert Waterhouse
My undergraduate studies in Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry at the University of Oxford and work experience at a genetics and biopharmaceutical company fostered my early interest in computational biology. Working with Prof Laurent Duret at the Claude Bernard University of Lyon during my Erasmus exchange project in France my research interests began to focus on the evolution of genes and genomes. This led me to seek to complement my undergraduate biochemistry training with a Masters course in Bioinformatics at Imperial College London through the 4-year Wellcome Trust PhD programme. The MSc course introduced me to a wide variety of computational approaches and formalised my training in computer programming, complemented with modules on mathematics, statistics and biology. The multidisciplinary nature of the course and the variety of subject backgrounds of my fellow students made this a particularly stimulating learning environment. These experiences equipped me with the skills required to pursue my doctoral studies in comparative genomics with Prof. George Christophides at Imperial College’s Department of Life Sciences.
My doctoral thesis detailed the computational comparative analysis of insect genomes, focusing on understanding the evolution of the immune system of disease-vector mosquitoes (Waterhouse et al., Science, 2007). Moving to Switzerland as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Geneva, my research has focused on comparative genomics of arthropods and large-scale orthology delineation. With the award of a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship I moved to the USA for two years to join the group of Prof. Manolis Kellis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I led the global effort to sequence and analyse the genomes of multiple disease-vector mosquitoes (Neafsey et al., Science, 2015). Back in Switzerland, I am developing research initiatives at the interface of biology and computing where I can significantly impact the field.
Dr Juliane Liepe
I did my first degree in Biochemistry at the University of Potsdam in Germany. During this time I discovered my joy in quantitative sciences, which led me to study Mathematics for two years in parallel to my Biochemistry studies. My final thesis involved both experiments from classical biochemistry and programming for data analysis. Due to my increasing interest in the application of computational tools in biology I decided to apply for the 4-year Wellcome Trust PhD program. This allowed me to learn in a short time many different programming languages and analysis software.
The first year MSc course introduced me to modern techniques in Bioinformatics and Systems Biology. The practical projects were especially useful; not only to apply the newly gained knowledge, but also to have the time and experience to best chose my PhD topic and supervisor. My PhD thesis was about model based statistical approaches in immunology and signal transduction, which resulted in several publications in scientific journals, including Nature Protocols. This enabled me to continue my research and start my independent career as a David Sainsbury Research Fellow. Overall, I hugely enjoyed my time as a 4-year Wellcome Trust PhD student and it prepared me with all necessary skills, experience, knowledge and track-record to continue my career in science.