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Third course: Applied Programming for Life Sciences

The third course at Karolinska Institute is the Programming course. As the programme of MTLS is heavy in computational biology, this course is of utmost importance. The course focuses on python programming. It is a short course of 1.5 credits on the basics of programming and gives an insight on how the same can be applied in handling biological data sets.

The main idea of this course is to familiarize students with the programming language- python and prepare for the next semester courses on Bioinformatics.

The course is designed such that students who have little or no prior knowledge of programming can start writing basic codes to perform simple tasks of generating the complementary strands of the DNA/RNA, search for a particular sequence in the given DNA sample, etc.

The first day of the course includes introduction to python and the instruction to install. In the further classes we learn to print strings, understand different data types and the type of data structures. Later in the course we also learn to handle data and perform statistical tests and generate graphs for representing various results.

The structure of the class is very flexible. In the mornings we had lectures where we were introduced to a new topic and post lunch we had exercises that were related to the topics. We had to solve the exercises in  the classroom to pass the course. However, it was made very was designed to encourage learning and applying. As beginners in python programming, we faced difficulties in applying what we had learned, so the TA’s helped us solve the problems and errors that we faced while solving the exercise. I have personally tired learning python from many online courses, but this was the best learning experience. The main reason was that the TA’s gave individual attention to each student and guided according to their problem at respective steps, unlike the tutorials or solutions that give only a single way to solve the problem. And many times it is not the approach that we use.

We also had a final exam at the end of the course, where we had few challenging questions. One such question was to convert the given DNA sequence to protein sequence. It was really fun and challenging to accomplish that as a beginner. Few days after the exam we had planned a secret Santa party in our class, where we wrote a python code to assign the secret Santa to everyone.

The course was really helpful to learn or refresh basics. It helped me feel more confident about programming and Bioinformatics courses in the next semester.