Our People

Heather Ward

Heather Ward

M.Binf. ‘17

Before entering the MBinf program I completed a thesis-based MSc, during which time I encountered a considerable amount of rote data analysis. This analysis was traditionally done by lab members using Excel, and while the volume of data I was looking at did not make this prohibitive, with the limited programming experience I had at that time I understood that it could likely be sped up quite a bit, while also reducing the amount of human error involved.

The experiences in my MSc prompted me to consider further training in bioinformatics and programming generally, which led me to enter the MBinf program. The MBinf program brought me rapidly up to speed on many of the basics of bioinformatics, particularly in the use of UNIX and command-line tools that I now use on a daily basis in my job. The MBinf program provided the background and tools necessary to get started in bioinformatics, covering integral topics such as source control, programming concepts, biostatistics, UNIX, best-practices pipelines and tools, and how to explore the literature to find the tools necessary to interrogate a particular dataset or question. Since 'bioinformatics' covers a wide range of applications, data types, and analyses, it is difficult to choose which set of topics will be useful to all students, but the MBinf program does a good job at covering a foundational set of skills that will be widely applicable across disciplines and analyses. This culminates in a research project that can be taken either in an academic lab or in the industry, granting students the ability to apply their skills to a particular question in a deeper and more comprehensive analysis, getting feedback from experts in the field as well as gaining valuable work experience.

The skills I gained during the MBinf program gave me the foundation I needed to transition into working in industry, where I daily encounter new and diverse bioinformatics problems. Although the types of analyses I handle are often disparate and I have not necessarily previously encountered them either in the course of my job or during the MBinf program, I feel confident that I have the foundational knowledge and experience required to understand how to approach virtually any bioinformatics problem.

My BINF*6999 project was completed with DNAstack (Toronto, ON) and I was hired upon graduation. I currently work there as Bioinformatics Lead in the Data Science division.

Yoel Yakobi

M.Binf. ‘21

I can easily recognize how the University of Guelph’s Master of Bioinformatics program gave me the skills and knowledge necessary to explore the many dimensions of medicine, even now at the outset of my medical career. Prior to beginning the MBINF program, I had very little exposure to statistics, programming, or bioinformatics as a whole; I had just completed a bachelor’s degree in Arts and Science in which I tailored my studies to a future in medicine, oblivious to the impact that the MBINF program would have on my career.

Within the first few months, I experienced a rapid shift in my understanding of various topics like biology, ecology, health and more as I gained skills in statistics and coding. Today, I can acknowledge that our increasing reliance on computing for both research and practice hasn’t simply augmented the study of each of these topics alone, but it also facilitated and strengthened their interdisciplinary nature, with medicine being no exception. How might environmental factors like climate change and air pollution impact the health of a population? How do we scale our perception of a genetic disease from an individual to a population? We are witnessing a collision between the worlds of medicine, environmental science, and public policy among others, necessitating a holistic understanding of multiple disciplines and the ability to integrate them with an underlying bioinformatics approach.

As I continue through my medical education, I increasingly appreciate the unique perspective I’ve gained from the MBINF program, and the opportunities it has given me to share and apply my newfound knowledge. Whether I choose to pursue my programming skills in research or temporarily put them aside as I take on a more clinical role, the year I spent in the MBINF program has succeeded in shifting the course of my medical career for the better.