About the Bixophia project
What is Bixophia?
Bixophia is an online tool for discovering training and expert support for bioinformatics. Whilst a number of higher education courses are available for this subject, the requirement for bioinformatics knowledge has rapidly increased in recent years; many researchers in the life sciences find themselves lacking these skills as they did not form part of their initial formal education. Bixophia is a one-stop-shop for finding appropriate bioinformatics training, coupled with a geographic (UK) search for local experts - offering a simple route to both up-skill and support the development of mid-career scientists in the workplace.
Why do we need a tool like this?
Bioinformatics and related skills have been highlighted as a critical need by UK industry, professional bodies and research funders. The pharmaceutical industry alone employs around 40k people involved in the pharmaceutical development, many of whom increasingly need bioinformatics knowledge.
This demand is due to the rapid development of the field and its importance in modern molecular life sciences. Provision for the subject in undergraduate life-science education is still limited, but for many mid-career scientists this subject was absent from their formal education. The focus is therefore on up-skilling career-scientists in the workplace through short-course training.
Unfortunately bioinformatics training often takes life-scientists outside of their “comfort-zone”. This, coupled to a requirement to learn “on-the-job”, represents a barrier to learning and engagement with learning opportunities.
The most popular, and impactful training in this subject comes from face-to-face learning and the associated mentor support; yet such courses conflict with the need to be in the workplace. Online modes of training are often proposed as a solution, but often fail to provide critical learner support.
It is this challenge – finding and accessing valuable training compatible with work-based learning, and pairing it with opportunities for face-to-face support – that Bixophia aims to address.
What is special about Bixophia?
The project will provide a one-stop-shop for discovering training and expert support. Other portals often index training from many providers, displaying them to the user in a coherent but re-branded format. This loses an important part of quality training; provision of effective descriptions and learning outcomes that place the training in the correct context and manage learner expectations.
Bixophia provides topic-driven aggregated searching, displaying a simple training count per provider. Users click through to explore these, but they (a) do so knowing these expert providers are selected for quality and (b) see the training in the context that the provider intended.
Uniquely, matching topics have been used to identify expert practitioners from the UK research community, indexed by geography. Learners discover not only training appropriate to their needs, but also research groups in their chosen location who practice these topics and may be able to support their learning and research.
Who should use Bixophia?
The audience includes Industry scientists, Healthcare professionals working in genomic medicine, postgraduate students and researchers in UK Universities and Research Institutes.
Demand for skills is evidenced by the Science Industry Partnership skills report (2016), the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry view of the skills gap (2015) the MRC & BBSRC review of vulnerable skills (2014), and the HEE sponsored genomic medicine education programmes. (all links below)
Bixophia will be promoted alongside other training offerings in the field, eg from the European Bioinformatics Inst, and via the professional networks of the other bodies mentioned here with whom we have existing links.
What are the future plans?
Bixophia’s method means as providers add new training, it is immediately discoverable; ensuring what users see is always current. This method is easily extended to include other providers or topics, expanding the diversity of training to be discovered. Currently, expert mentoring relies on face-to-face interactions, but the development of an online mentoring platform would enable this aspect to scale alongside the training search and remove geographical dependencies.
Both scaling mechanisms have potential to provide greater impact: reducing geographical restrictions additionally allows for reaching support outside of the UK, an important industrial consideration given the global nature of many pharmaceutical companies.
We have two further ambitions for the project: 1) To increase the international reach of the platform, 2) to increase the Industrial use of the platform by providing custom built, company or consortia specific versions which would integrate in-house training opportunities and expert registers with the publically accessible offering.
Both these activities may open up further funding opportunities, and this, coupled with the low ongoing maintenance costs for this provision, aids its longer term sustainability.
Key Sector Reports
The SIP new (2016) skills strategy is available here
A view of the skills gap from the ABPI (2015) is available here
The MRC and BBSRC published a report on Vulnerable Skills (2014) which is available here (MRC) or here (BBSRC)
In the fast-paced world of research, things change quickly - technology moves on, and you have to keep up.
Modern biology requires a team with the right people and the right skills. Finding the right bioinformatics training and expert support can be a challenge, so we have developed a simple tool to help you. Try it out below, or click here to learn more