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Allison Burns

Allison_BurnsUndergrad: University of Oregon
Internship: Stowers Medical Research Institute
Currently at: EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) – PhD candidate

What was your undergraduate institution?

I graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 (and immediately enrolled in this program)

How did you find yourself at Oregon? What about the program attracted you?

During my senior year, I realized that I wasn’t ready to commit to a 4-year PhD program, but I knew I still wanted to stay in science (I loved working in the lab). I brought it up during a meeting with my PI (Bill Bradshaw) and he suggested that I set up a meeting to talk about the Bioinformatics Program with Andy Berglund (one of the founders of the bioinformatics track). I met with Andy a few days a later and knew that this program was perfect for me. I would get to stay in science AND I would be able to pick up a few new skills at the same time. I don’t think, at the time, I realized the significance of switching from bench science to bioinformatics. However, I have since found that the computational skills we learn are really useful in many different facets of my life and I still get to do some bench work!

What was the intensive summer like for you?

The professional development part of the program was really helpful and I feel like I picked up some really good skills from that part of the course. As a recent college graduate, I didn’t realize how competitive the job market was and I was completely clueless about interviewing and resume building. They don’t really teach you that in any of the classes needed for your major. The core curriculum was fast paced and a lot of work. But considering the fact that most of us had no computer background, they absolutely did an amazing job preparing us for our internships.

Where was your internship?

I did my internship at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri. It is a collective of laboratories funded by a donation from Jim Stowers, a cancer survivor and the founder of American Century Investments. I work in the Baumann lab, analyzing my and other scientists’ data.

What was your internship like? What are you responsible for? What is a typical day like?

My internship at Stowers was unique in that I was working in a lab, but also had access to the Computational Biology Core when I needed help. I was lucky enough to have been mentored both by my PI, Peter Baumann, and a genomics scientist in the core, Marco Blanchette. I spent most of my internship helping other students in the Baumann lab analyze the data for their projects, writing short codes to ease some mundane tasks for some students, and analyzing the data for my own project.

Did you feel the program prepared you for the internship? In what ways?

I did feel that the program prepared me for this internship. Before beginning this program, I had never had any programming experience. In the 10 weeks that I spent int he summer courses, I established an understanding for Python and R and was then able to build upon that during my internship and continuing into my current position. The summer curriculum was actually very similar to what my life is like at my current job. I attend (and present) journal clubs and give short summaries of my current work. I also spend a lot of time discussing projects and things that I don’t understand with other students in the lab. The fast pace of the summer courses cultivated a sense of collaboration that I find is still very much a part of my current job.