Schools’ Day 2020: Our scientists answer students’ questions (Part Two)

Schools’ Day 2020: Our scientists answer students’ questions (Part Two)

Schools’ Day 2020: Our scientists answer students’ questions (Part Two)

Since 1994 the Babraham Institute has run Schools’ Day – an annual event held at the Institute where approximately 200 secondary and sixth-form students and their teachers get hands-on with cutting-edge research in our laboratories and scientific facilities, meet researchers and discover more about careers in science. This year we invited students to submit their own questions to our researchers ahead of the event on Wednesday 26th February.

We received questions from several participating schools and passed them on to a range of our researchers for comment. We’ve compiled their replies to some of the most frequently asked questions to give a range of perspectives and experiences. While there are variations between answers, you’ll see that there are also a lot of similarities. You can learn more about the range of careers at The Babraham Institute on our People Page


How important are maths and computing in the biological sciences?

“Maths and computing are completely essential to modern biology. Most data generated by biological experiments is now electronic and often the sizes of datasets mean that it’s not feasible to look at them in any meaningful way without the aid of a computer.

Having said that, you don’t need to be an expert in either maths or computing to do biological research. Knowledge of basic algebra plus a good understanding of basic statistical principles will get you a long way. On the computational side there are a lot of specialised user-friendly applications for dealing with many types of data. There is a big advantage though in knowing how to do basic scripting and automation to be able to handle the largest data sets.

If you are very mathematically or computationally inclined then there are many opportunities to apply these skills to the most challenging areas of biology. Development of new methods is an ongoing process and there are always interesting and relevant problems to work on.”

Simon, Head of Bioinformatics

 “Maths is important, but computing especially is an essential future aspect of molecular sciences. There’s a plethora of data being generated right now, that needs to be analysed and understood by the future generation of scientists.”

Jasmine – Research Fellow

“You can certainly have a successful career as a biologist while knowing very little maths and computing. On the other hand, there are great questions that can be asked best by people with maths and computing background. Over time the value of maths and computing to biology has been steadily increasing, and I would recommend people to get at least the basics. But don't be scared off by it - the best teams are those with a mixture of different skill sets. No one person needs to have all of the skills - as long as you bring something valuable to the team.”

Adrian – Group Leader

 “I am seeing maths and computing becoming more and more important in biological research, but it does vary a lot between research groups and topics. If you have a background in those subjects it is definitely an asset that you can bring to your team. However, a career in science is all about learning and scientists frequently take training courses to learn and develop new skills, so you’re not expected to already know everything!”

Izzy – PhD Student


Part One: What made you want to be a scientist and what have been the highs and lows of your career?

Part Two: How important are maths and computing in the biological sciences?

Part Three: Do I need a degree to succeed in science?