Why STEM Education is Important to the Future of Lab Informatics

The topic of this blog was occasioned by a recent calendar observation. November 8 is recognized in the United States as National STEM Day (or National STEAM Day). STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math; STEAM is its extension when you include the arts. Educators around the country use the occasion to expose their students to STEM activities and to talk about potential career paths. The Society for Information Management provides information about a number of STEM-related activities specific to information technology.

At CSols, we’re obviously interested in STEM as it relates to laboratory informatics. If you’re reading this, you’re probably involved with laboratory informatics, too. Laboratory informatics (LIMS, ELN, LES, CDS, SDMS) combines aspects of science, software engineering, and computer programming, drawing on a variety of STEM skills and areas of interest. Laboratory informatics systems are used in many different industries and serve various purposes within those industries.  STEM-related educational programs and events like National STEM/STEAM Day are important to the growth of our field in every industry because laboratory informatics systems can be found wherever there’s a lab. In this blog post, we’ll look at how the specific STEM subjects of science and technology play a role in the work of laboratory informatics professionals.

The Future of Laboratory Informatics

The future supply of qualified experts in laboratory informatics is dependent on the quality of STEM education in our schools. With the increasing prevalence of dedicated STEM programs offered in elementary and secondary schools, we expect the number of people with the skills to pursue a career in laboratory informatics to grow. Opportunities will be plentiful, too, because automation and digitization of laboratory analyses will only continue to increase.

Concerns about data integrity are also on the rise as a result of increased digitization of laboratory analyses and the global availability of data at any time. This is where the technology piece of STEM comes in; safeguarding analytical data is a key aspect of laboratory informatics. Beyond analytical data, people using or considering an ELN may worry about controlling access to their intellectual property. Efficiently managing huge amounts of data across multiple platforms is also a future trend. These concerns about data integrity and data management not only involve the potential for hacking or industrial espionage, but also mechanical disruptions in electrical supply and hardware failures. A good disaster recovery plan should also be part of every laboratory informatics implementation.

The STEM Pathways to Laboratory Informatics

At CSols, the majority of our consultants have strong backgrounds in both science and programming. We seek out candidates with hands-on laboratory experience because their familiarity with the science and lab processes, combined with expertise in coding, makes them ideally suited to implement large laboratory informatics projects. All laboratory informatics projects have a much better chance of being completed correctly when the person is familiar with how the lab operates. Roles such as a strategic consultant helping you select a solution, a developer, a business analyst, a software validation engineer, or a project leader all rely heavily on this combined expertise and may even be the key to the success of an implementation.

Our computer systems validation (CSV) team embodies the value of STEM education to the field of laboratory informatics. All members of our validation team have undergraduate degrees in laboratory sciences. This is important because the regulated businesses of pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and personal care are our validation clients. It is extremely important to these clients to know that they can trust their business processes to our validation consultants.

Technology is constantly evolving. The current push for cloud-based computing has reached into the laboratory informatics world, and will only increase its presence there. Voice-activated assistants are also finding a place in laboratories, and work is already underway to allow them to interface with your informatics solution. Our consultants work closely with our industry partners to stay informed about those advances in functionality and new software releases.

Influencing the Next Generation of Laboratory Informatics Professionals

If you work with LIMS, ELN, or other types of laboratory informatics systems and are invited to speak about your work to students, you may want to share some of the resources in this section.

If you’re mentoring students or early-career scientists who are interested in pursuing laboratory informatics as a career, the CDC has two free introductory short courses online that show how laboratory informatics applies to specimens and results. Each course takes approximately two hours to complete and has available continuing education units. LIMSForum maintains a list of university programs in informatics. Of course, CSols maintains a number of lab informatics resources for interested professionals as well.

Outreach, such as opportunities to present your work at STEM events in your local community, should be part of any scientific career. The American Society for Microbiology has produced a good explanation about why it’s important. If you’d like to do some outreach but aren’t sure how to get involved, you might like to be the scientist in the Skype a Scientist program.

What do you wish you had known when you began your laboratory informatics career journey? How do you feel the STEM program will help fuel the laboratory informatics field to a brighter future?

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