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Rachel Richardson

Undergrad: Western Washington University
Internship: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Currently at: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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

I worked in a wet lab for a few years out of undergrad and I felt I needed new skills to advance my career. Specifically, I was looking to learn about handling and interpreting large amounts of genomic data. The Bioinformatics and Genomics Master’s program at the University of Oregon stood out due to the built-in experience with mentors on campus and the nine-month paid internship. Since breaking into a field can be difficult without prior work experience, I saw the program as the perfect environment for learning while getting my foot in the door.

What was the intensive summer like for you?

I found the summer challenging, but a really good way to connect with the rest of my cohort. A lot was covered in a short amount of time, and just when I started feeling comfortable with one programing language, the classes switched to learning about a new one. The transition was made easier by collaborating with other students since several had prior experience in programming. I think the greatest challenge for me was figuring out the differences between Windows and Mac. Some silly things (like different newline characters) would leave me puzzled, but our instructors were able to help me figure out what was going on.

Where was your internship?

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the city of Richland, situated by the Columbia River in south-eastern Washington. Warm and dry, advertised for 300 days of sun. A lot of tumbleweeds, but still interesting things to do and places to check out.

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

My internship was enjoyable and helped solidify the skills built in the BGMP coursework. I was responsible for developing code to integrate a visualization package, trelliscopejs, with an existing package for statistical analysis of mass spectrometry data, pmartR. I was also helping out with analyzing miscellaneous data as needed. I had a lot of independence day-to-day and my mentor helped me with prioritizing tasks, thinking through my workflow in an intuitive way, and directing me in statistical analyses I was less familiar with. I would meet with my mentor on a weekly basis or more often depending on the project needs. Overall, my workdays were flexible and highly independent.

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

The program absolutely helped prepare me; I’ve used R every day since starting my internship and having the biological background has helped me communicate with both the biologists and statisticians involved in many of the projects at PNNL. I also feel more at ease communicating and presenting my work thanks to the extensive preparation in the BGMP courses.

How did your internship prepare you for your current position/career path?

To be honest, I have many of the same responsibilities as I had during my internship. The biggest change has been benefiting from the perks of full-time employment and getting involved in more projects as I continue to learn and grow. The more time I spend here at PNNL, the more my network expands and opportunities follow.

Do you have any advice for prospective students?

Firstly, spend time with your cohort. Your peers know exactly what you’re going through in the classes and can support you during and after the program. Secondly, hang out with your instructors. They’re all great people. Lastly, if you have some circumstances that make things tough, talk to someone about it. Everyone wants you to succeed and the wonderful BGMP instructors make every effort to help you get there!