How did I get here? An accidental bioinformatician’s story

Eva Tosco-Herrera
PhD candidate at Hospital La Candelaria

When people ask me what I wanted to be as a grown-up when I was little, I honestly do not know what to tell them. For some people, their current job is an existential dream, it is something they were born with, a truthful desire, an inherent asset of their personality. The truth is, that is not my case. And it does not have to be like that for you to become who you want to be. As the title may suggest, nowadays I am, what you could call, a bioinformatician. Not even sure about that yet. I did touch a few computers while growing up, and I did live among nature, trees, mud, dragonflies, and crickets. But I learned very late that both things I loved could be merged into a job I could dedicate my life to, or even that I actually desired to get this type of job.

The first thing that comes to mind is probably second grade. My mother luckily had the time to invest in me, allowing me to learn how to read since I was 3. My teacher was impressed with my reading skills back then and told me I would make a great lawyer since they need to read a lot, very fast. That stuck with me for a bit, and it was not until fourth grade that I learned that a lawyer is supposed to look out for justice at trials, to fight for the weak, to face the powerful. It took me a while to realize that, what I thought, was not the truth. Lawyers could also defend guilty people. It was such a disappointment. But after a while of feeling lost, I began to look for other options. I was not sure of where to start, so I just listened, and I started answering “I really do not know”. 

In fifth grade, my school decided to do a practice class with us and with a few microbiology technicians. They taught us how to streak bacteria on a Petri dish, but not just any bacteria: our own bacteria. From our tongues, our noses, our hands. One of the technicians took a sample from my ear with a Q-tip and stroke the agar with it, leaving zig-zag marks on the gelatin. After two weeks, I vividly remember staring at those white spots on the red agar for the entire hour. I was fascinated. A whole unseen world presented itself in front of my eyes in the most outstanding way, and I could not look away. My perspective of the world changed dramatically and forever. I suddenly figured out that there was so much more than the eye could see.

I used to be very good at subjects such as Spanish, History, even English, Literature… However, I was not that good at Math, or Sciences, Physics, or Chemistry. The first ones bored me to death, and the last ones frustrated me but intrigued me at the same time, as a challenge. That was not reflected in my grades, but I was sure of what I liked, and when Basic Genetics showed up, I immediately thought “this is what I want to do”. I wish I could say I have not doubted along the way, but I would be lying. I have always run around plants, as well as other organisms. When I started my Biology degree, I was almost exclusively interested in Genetics, but other interest began to arise along the way. By the time I had to choose a topic for my final project, my wish was to do research in Botany. I chose not one but three botany-related topics, but all of them became unavailable because other people with higher degrees already had taken them. This led me to choose a biostatistics project as a fourth option, which later turned out to be bioinformatics. I and my project supervisor’s aim was to adapt and enrich an awesome online application to manage Nanopore sequencing data, originally developed by my current colleagues and my current Ph.D. supervisor. I got really interested, really enjoyed the project, and I contacted which is now the research group I work in.

What I really want you to get from my own personal story, that may or may not have been of your interest – sorry if it is the latter -, is that you do not have to get yourself straight from the beginning to be successful, or at least to end up doing what you love. I did not know I was going to end up here, and I have felt lost, lonely, a misfit, a failure. Multiples times. But here I am now, by luck, coincidence, or fate, meeting awesome people, facing problems but solving them soon enough and feeling satisfied, finding out new knowledge, and feeling useful for the greater good. This could also be you in the near future! Life finds a way to get you where you need to be, to learn what you need to learn. Trust the process, be optimistic. You are enough, you are worthy, and you will be whenever you want to be. You can do everything, but do not forget the basics: stay healthy, stay focused overall, but enjoy every minute. Time is limited and each moment will never be the same.

Shopping Basket