The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically – MLK, Jr.
This summer I had the special opportunity to attend the Strategies and Techniques for Analyzing Microbial Population Structure (STAMPS) course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The focus of the course was to learn a variety of strategies for analyzing next-generation DNA sequences. These strategies included how to assign taxonomy, compare microbial communities, and estimate microbial diversity using statistical models.
But the most important thing that was demonstrated throughout the course was that there isn’t a “cookie cutter” analysis that will fit all datasets. Instead, it is our job to think critically about the constraints of our data and what tool or tools will best fit those constraints. While that is a huge responsibility, it is also an incredible motivator to always be aware of and learning about the advances in the field of bioinformatics.
I came back to the lab at Southern Miss excited about everything that I learned and that I will learn. This course opened my eyes to the limitations and the power that these bioinformatics tools provide. They not only enable us to make new discoveries about microbes but they also push the field of deep-sea microbial ecology a little further into the future every day. And if that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is.