Tackle Biological Data with Computational Methods – Study Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine in the LSI Master’s programme
The study track Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine in the Master’s programme in Life Science Informatics addresses challenges of big data and the great opportunities it creates for biology.

To learn more about what studying in LSI and Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine is like, we talked to two former students and one professor from the programme. Dovydas Kičiatovas from Lithuania and Anna Pirttikoski from Finland are both alumni of the study track and are currently continuing their path at the University of Helsinki with PhD studies. Ville Mustonen is a professor of Bioinformatics at the University of Helsinki and leader of the research group Bioinformatics and Evolution at the Department of Computer Science, Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme and Institute of Biotechnology.

Who is the Master's programme in LSI and study track Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine for?

Ville Mustonen: “The LSI programme attracts students with backgrounds in biology and computer science and merges these two fields of expertise. The Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine track prepares students for the new era of biology, where innovative computational approaches are required to achieve high-impact findings in an increasingly data-dense environment.”

Dovydas Kičiatovas: “Having an interest in uncovering mysteries of human biology and evolution through data-driven computational methods, I always knew I wanted to pursue a scientific career in bioinformatics. For me, pursuing a Master’s in Finland was a very high-quality choice in terms of the education system and also future career prospects in scientific research, and I'm happy to say that both of these definitely worked out.”

Anna Pirttikoski: “Before studying the LSI programme, I studied a bachelor’s in mathematics, but I was also very interested in biology-related topics, such as human biology, genetics, and medicine. I also wanted to improve my coding skills and learn best practices to analyse real-world data. The Master’s programme allowed me to combine all those different interests.”

What is it like to study LSI and Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine in practice?

Ville Mustonen: “The structure in the Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine track is answering to the new challenges of big data and the great opportunities it creates for biology. In our courses, we work hands-on with the biological data while covering the solid theoretical underpinning of the methods. The strength of the programme is that we combine rapidly developing areas of biology and computer science. Both fields are great at the University of Helsinki and we act as a bridge between them. This also allows the students to pursue their Master of Science thesis projects in leading labs.”

Anna Pirttikoski: “We are very much focused on data analysis in the programme. In courses, we often have weekly exercises and assignments in which we analyse real-world data. The teachers are excellent and the threshold to ask for help in these courses is very low. We also have the opportunity to participate in coding help sessions, where students can ask for further support from the teachers. In my opinion, those were very practical and useful.”

Dovydas Kičiatovas: “One thing that really struck me was the large degree of freedom in choosing which direction to take regarding my own research. There is a wide array of courses to choose from, and many look at bioinformatics techniques in all kinds of real-world applications.

A course that I really liked was ‘Machine Learning and Molecular Biology’, taught by Ville Mustonen. This course inspired me to write my master’s thesis on cancer mutations, which has resulted in a paper that my supervisor and I are currently aiming to publish.”

What kind of career opportunities does the programme open?

Ville Mustonen: “The specialisation in Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine educates students to be experts who can turn biological questions into appropriate challenges for computational data analysis. The programme prepares students for a position as a bioinformatics expert in a biology or biomedical research lab, working with processing, analysing and interpreting big biological data.”

Anna Pirttikoski: “During my studies, I became very interested in cancer data and research. That is why I started working in a research lab that studies single-cell transcriptomics of ovarian cancer and also decided to write my master’s thesis on this topic. I am now continuing PhD studies related to cancer research.”

Dovydas Kičiatovas: “During my time as a Master’s student, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant at the University of Helsinki, first researching cancer mutations and moving on to microbial evolution, which I am currently working on. This year I am starting my doctoral studies at the Doctoral School for Computer Science and will be focusing on machine learning applications in biology to describe and understand the molecular evolution of various biological phenomena, for example, antimicrobial resistance.”

What is it like to study and live in Helsinki?

Dovydas Kičiatovas: “I am really impressed by the Finnish student culture and its plentiful traditions and events. Even though most of my studies were during the corona period, many student activities were transported to the virtual space, and the University of Helsinki accommodated everything very nicely.

I enjoy living in Helsinki a lot. I think there is a very nice harmony between the city and nature and there are excellent places to spend your free time, like many beautiful parks. I was also impressed by how well Finnish people across all age ranges speak English. I can't remember a single time that I couldn't converse in English. But now that I will start my PhD here, I will also begin to learn Finnish more.”