You’ve prepped your samples, submitted them for sequencing, and finally received a file with your sequence data. Now what? It’s time to assemble, align, and analyze your data and start to make good on that investment you just made! Maybe you already have software for this purpose, or maybe you are evaluating new software to purchase. Before you can get meaningful results from your data, you need to learn to use this software effectively. Below are seven tips we’ve gathered from talking to our customers on how to learn new genomics software.
1. Open it and go
This is a best case scenario idea. If the software is intuitive and you are doing work that is relatively straightforward, there is a reasonable chance that you can simply open the software and identify exactly how to analyze your data. With the increasing complexity of genomic analyses and the multitude of options available for in-depth analysis, this approach likely won’t be sufficient to allow you to fully complete your analysis, even with the most user-friendly software packages.
2. Watch software videos
This is a quick way to see how something is accomplished in the software, especially if your workflow is somewhat complex or your needs are unique. By spending 2-3 minutes watching an overview video, you can often get the information you need to get started with the software. As you get more comfortable in the software, you can watch detailed videos that answer specific how-to questions. Companies often post these videos on their website or on YouTube, and sometimes end-users even make their own videos.
3. Sign up for webinars
Many organizations offer free webinars that allow you to see a live demo of the software and have your questions answered by an expert in the field of genomics. Webinars are a great resource if you aren’t sure where to begin, or if you want to get a broad overview of the tools available in the software you are using.
4. Look at the program help files
This may not seem as modern or exciting as watching videos or attending webinars, but often the software help files or user manual will address your questions and give you step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish an objective. The advantage to using text based resources is that they are easily searchable and can often be accessed even when you don’t have an internet connection.
5. Contact support
If you aren’t finding the answers you need in the software training materials, try contacting the software company directly via phone, email or online chat. Sometimes a quick contact can save hours of work on your own. A knowledgeable support representative should be able to answer your toughest questions and may be able to give you an instant live demo of the software to show you exactly what you need to know.
6. Try it before you buy it
This is a corollary to the first tip. Before you invest time and money in a new software package, ask about a free trial so you can learn to use the software with your own data. By using your own data, you can learn the specific features and tools available for your project and sequencing technology. If you don’t have data yet, ask the company for demo data so you can run through a test sequencing project. As you use the software, don’t be afraid to click buttons and explore different menu options. A good piece of software will forgive mistakes and allow you to undo any unwanted changes.
7. Start with the best
Perhaps the most important consideration when adopting new software is to choose a product that is well supported and easy to use. While it is important to have training resources available, genomics software should advance your research, not slow it down by requiring hours of learning, installing, and troubleshooting. Start with the best software tools so you can spend your time on the research questions that matter to you.
What’s your best advice for learning new software? Tell us in the comments!