What Can Scientists Do With Code?

1. You are a scientist by training. Why learn to code?

I’ve always been interested in how computers and software work, so I try to use programming in my work as a scientist as often as I can.

2. How have you used code in the lab?

I wrote my own applications after taking the HTML/CSS and jQuery lessons, which helped my colleagues and I a lot in our workflow. These applications are about manipulating strings of DNA and amino acid sequences: Splitting sequences in defined lengths, extracting subsequences, and converting into other file formats.

I later wrote some useful tools in Python to facilitate my everyday work — especially the tedious and repetitive tasks. I really enjoyed the process of coding itself, and when the program was ready to do its work, it was just a great reward.

3. What’s an example of how a scientist could use code?

Scientists could write their own scripts to speed up the data preparation and evaluation process, while decreasing the rate of error if certain tasks have to be repeated. Tons of data are generated every single day and most of it is made available to other scientists online — they just need the right tools to work with it!

In the natural sciences, basically everyone does some sort of statistics. Coding can also be useful if a particular file format must be converted and the software for this task does not exist, yet. As a person who knows how to code, you will be probably able to pull up a script to do this in no time.

4. What about non-scientists?

There are many simple tasks in your daily life, for example if you’ve written a chapter of a novel and want to count how often a particular word occurs. Or let’s say you are planning a board game night and cannot find the dice (this actually happened to me) - impress your friends with a digital die simulator! This is one that I wrote in Python.

5. Any parting advice?

My motto is: “If there is a tedious task that you have to repeat more frequently than you like, write a script to let it do the job for you!” This does not apply to any task of course, though it would be nice to have a program that reads your emails every day and writes proper responses.

Want to learn to automate your work? Start learning Python.