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Women in bioinformatics

ARU apprentices are making an impact in bioinformatics, an exciting area of science, and dispelling misconceptions about gender barriers in the industry.

Bioinformatics remains a male-dominated sector; however, with a Bioinformatics Degree Apprenticeship providing a new route into the industry and widening opportunity, it stands to become more diverse.

Bioinformatics degree apprentice Beth

ARU apprentices Beth and Saffron are embarking on an exciting early career path in Bioinformatics – the blending of computing, biology and mathematics to process and analyse biological data – with global life science leaders Illumina and The Wellcome Sanger Institute.

We caught up with Beth and Saffron while they were on campus for a study day to find out about their apprentice journey so far.

Wanting to study a biology-related subject, the Data Scientist Degree Apprenticeship in Bioinformatics grabbed Beth’s attention when an email was sent round at her sixth form. A simple response to the email started her journey.

Beth explained: 'I hadn’t heard of bioinformatics until I heard about the apprenticeship, but after meeting bioinformaticians on a day’s work experience at The Wellcome Sanger Institute, I really liked the idea of using software to understand biological data. It’s a growing and exciting area to be in at the moment.'

Bioinformatics degree apprentice Saffron

Saffron came across the apprenticeship on the Government’s website and did some research, but didn’t think she was qualified enough, so she nearly didn’t apply. However she explained: 'I wasn’t ever going to know if I didn’t try. I got the job and the opportunity to gain a degree and I love it!'

Experience and support to help you thrive

When you join the world of bioinformatics, you are not only using your knowledge of computing to help answer some of the biggest scientific questions there are left to answer, you're also becoming part of a team with a circle of support – from mentors and tutors to fellow apprentices.

Saffron highlighted that 'Getting to work at Illumina is the experience of a lifetime! ARU and Illumina have done so much to support me in my learning. At work I’m being given opportunities to work in teams where I can gain relevant experience for the bioinformatics modules that I’m studying. My personal tutor and course leaders are always making time available to talk about anything that may be concerning me about the work or university in general.'

Beth explained that 'It’s great to be able to contribute more to my team’s projects, for example adding features to our software that helps users. I’ve felt fully supported so far by both ARU and my workplace. My team have been particularly supportive when I’ve had lots of studying to do, making sure I am managing with everything and allowing me time to study during work hours if needed.'

Earn and learn with a degree apprenticeship

As a professional apprentice you’ll be paid throughout and there are no tuition fees, as these will be met by your employer and the Government.

Beth recommended the apprenticeship as a route to higher education and commented: 'I’m so happy that I chose this route. I’m very lucky to be getting a degree without the student debt, while earning and gaining valuable experience. Others should definitely consider it. What I learn in the course underpins my job and my job improves my understanding of what I learn.'

Saffron has already gained vital experience and added: 'I think that apprenticeships are an amazing way to gain invaluable experience whilst furthering your education. The variety in the type of apprenticeship you can do is growing all the time. They’re such a great way of gaining qualifications and experience.'

An industry ‘exploding with opportunities’

Genomics and bioinformatics are relatively new fields of science. However, as Saffron explained, 'The industry is growing so fast, they’re exploding with opportunities. Bioinformatics has become an essential part of genomics and it’s an exciting time to be a part of the industry and more specifically for me, Illumina.'

Beth added that in her role at The Wellcome Sanger Institute 'I have lots of opportunities to develop my career, such as working on different projects, taking part in public engagement activities and interacting with other teams.'

Could a degree apprenticeship be your next step?

Degree apprenticeships are ideal if you’re a school leaver looking for an alternative to full-time university education, or if you're already working and seeking higher-level training with the support of your employer.

Find out how you could become the next Data Scientist Bioinformatician with ARU.