Dr. Theo Knijnenberg is a computational biologist visiting ISB from the Netherlands Cancer Institute. While studying electrical engineering in college, Dr. Knijnenberg developed a casual interest in biology by reading "popular science" books on his own time. Currently, Dr. Knijnenberg is applying his diverse skill set to cancer biology research. Cancer is incredibly complex and understanding it requires analyzing data sets so large that no human could feasibly tackle them. That is where Dr. Knijnenberg steps in. Computational biologists design and implement computer algorithms that locate patterns in the data and reveal relationships between parts of a system.
Dr. Knijnenberg believes that the most important skill to have in the workplace is good communication. This is critical because of the interdisciplinary nature of systems biology. When he first started collaborating with biologists, Dr. Knijnenberg didn't understand all of the biology-specific terminology. He offered his advice to others on breaking into a new field. Dr. Knijnenberg encourages others to not be afraid to ask questions, attend as many lectures and seminars as possible, and be sure to follow up with the speaker after the presentation. He comments, "Answers come together with questions. It is more important to ask interesting questions than find interesting answers".
Dr. Knijnenberg also understands the importance of clear communication between scientists and the general public. He told us that the best way to bridge the knowledge gap is by using analogies. He points out that each person has a different set of reference points for understanding the world, and scientists need to know how to tap into those. With all science - and particularly with medicine - members of the public need to understand the research before they can support it. It's not possible to do it alone. As Dr. Knijnenberg said, "You're not smart by yourself".