In the current issue of Nature Methods, “Coding your way out of a problem” by Jeffrey M. Perkel features advice for biologists from BEACON MSU assistant professor C. Titus Brown under “Advice from the Pros.” Some highlights:
- Do not be afraid. A computer is just a tool, so do not be afraid of it, says C. Titus Brown, a Michigan State University researcher who teaches programming for biologists.
- Treat computation like an experiment. “Don’t trust what the computer spits out just because the computer spits it out,” says Brown. Instead, run a search that should yield a negative answer or vary parameters to see how the answer changes when it should not. “Do you get the same answer? If you do, that means it’s more robust.”
- Do not reinvent the wheel. Quite a bit of programming, says Brown, is “rote, cookbook-style stuff.” There is plenty of free code available, just copy and paste; the trick is tweaking it. “One of the most important skills to learn is how to just take the plethora of open-source solutions out there and apply them to your own problem.”