EMBL-ABR network: an interview with Jenny Martin

Jenny Martin2Jennifer L. Martin, Director, Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery, Griffith University, Queensland

August 2016

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What is bioinformatics for you and why it matters?

To me, bioinformatics is a means of understanding complex biological systems at an unprecedented level of detail. Bioinformatics matters because it holds the key to understanding life and death and everything in between.

What are the challenges you see for life scientists / medical researchers in the data driven science era?

The big challenge is big data. We have created more data in the past two years than we have in the 5000 years before that. The challenge for life scientists and medical researchers alike is to make sense of the never-ending data avalanche. We can’t know everything there is to know any more. Bioinformatics finds knowledge in the noise.

Would you say this is different for actual bioinformaticians? Do they face different challenges?

I’m not a card-carrying bioinformatician, though I work with many, so my opinion is from a peripheral lens and may be off-track. My view is that our metrics-driven mania for ranking and analysing scientific merit and for valuing individuals and hierarchies (number of papers, impact factor, H-index, first author, last author) rather than valuing teams, cooperatives and networks means that bioinformaticians (often middle author) are not valued or rewarded appropriately for their critical contributions.

What is open data, and what does it mean to you?

Open data means data that can be used and shared by everyone or anyone, without restrictions. It is the only way forward.

What is currently missing in the field of bioinformatics AND life sciences?

What’s missing is a scientific publishing model that’s fit for purpose. Have you ever gone to a restaurant where you bring your own ingredients, tableware, cutlery, oven, cooktop, prepare your own meal, sign over the copyright to the menu, critique the meal on the next table, wash up afterwards and then pay the restaurant owner for the pleasure of dining there? No, neither have I. Yet that’s what the current publishing model resembles. With a surcharge for a restaurant with a swanky storefront. What’s missing is a sophisticated, affordable, rigorous, efficient, and rapid means of getting data and conclusions out there –findable, searchable and accessible to a broad audience – without hitting a paywall.

It is early days yet, but what would you like to see EMBL-ABR become, achieve?

I would like to see bioinformatics become a household word. I would like to see kids using bioinformatics at school and developing their own bioinformatics tools. I would like to see a bioinformatics-literate community.

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Biosketch: Jenny Martin is the Director of the Eskitis Institute at Griffith University in Australia. She trained as a pharmacist in Melbourne, Australia, and was the Gold Medallist of her year at the Victorian College of Pharmacy. She was subsequently awarded a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Science Research Scholarship to undertake a DPhil research degree at the University of Oxford, in protein crystallography and structure-based inhibitor design. She established her own lab at the University of Queensland just 3 years after her PhD was awarded, in the Centre for Drug Design and Development, with a move 10 years later to the Institute for Molecular Bioscience. Her research focuses on protein structure and function in health and disease and the application of structure-based approaches to develop new drugs. Jenny is VP, Asian Crystallography Association, a former President of the Society of Crystallographers in Australia and  New Zealand, and a former chair of the National Committee for Crystallography of the Australian Academy of Science. She is a strong advocate for gender equity, a member of the Australian NHMRC Women in Health Science Committee, and a founding member of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Steering Committee for the Academy of Science. SAGE recently launched an Australian pilot of the UK Athena SWAN awards program for gender equity in STEMM. Jenny is the recipient of many awards including an inaugural ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship, the ASBMB Roche Medal, the Queensland Smart Women Smart State Research Scientist Award, and the Women in Biotech Outstanding Achievement Award.