Undergrad: University of Oregon
Currently at: Genentech
How did you find yourself at Oregon? What about the program attracted you?
A graduate student in my undergraduate research lab mentioned that she was transferring from her current general biology master’s program to a master’s program in a subdiscipline of biology called bioinformatics. I looked into the field and thought the interdisciplinary nature of computer science, biology, and statistics sounded interesting, if not a bit intimidating. During my gap year, I took some extra programming courses to round out my background in biology and strengthen my application.
I was attracted to the program because of its relatively quick turnaround time of 18 months. I liked how the program incorporated the internship into its curriculum so students could quickly apply their newly learned skills in a real-world setting. Also, not needing to take GRE to apply was pretty sweet.
What was the intensive summer like for you?
The intensive summer was…intense. I’m glad I took introductory programming courses before enrolling in the program because they helped me keep up with the fast pace of the summer classes. The classroom environment was highly collaborative and forced me to become comfortable communicating in programming terms, which were new to me at the time. I was pushed to my academic limits but the instructors made sure I never failed.
Where was your internship?
Genentech in South San Francisco, widely considered the birthplace of modern biotechnology. Specifically, I was part of the OMNI Bioinformatics group.
What was your internship like? What are you responsible for? What is a typical day like?
The program instructors constantly told us that the bulk of the learning and growth we’d experience in the master’s program would take place in our internships, and I now wholly believe that is true. My group is in Genentech’s research and development wing, so I was responsible for working with both in-house and publically available data that had the end goal of contributing to improved or novel therapeutic interventions for patients. I worked in the neuroscience division of my group and researched neurodegenerative diseases with an emphasis on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
My internship tenure was split between what I considered “learning” and “working” days. On the “learning” days, I spent the majority of my time trying to understand a biological, statistical, or computational concept. This helped me be more productive on my “working” days because I was familiar with what needed to be done and could articulately communicate if I needed help.
Do you feel the program prepared you for the internship? In what ways?
Definitely. The program equipped me with a sufficient amount of programming and genomics knowledge that provided a solid foundation to build on throughout the internship. The program accomplishes this by constantly seeking feedback from BGMP alumni to form the most relevant and translatable curriculum for an individual to be successful in an entry-level bioinformatics position. It also provided me with the soft skills to quickly learn job-related topics and tasks that were too niche for the program to cover within 9 months. I attribute this to the projects we worked on in the Fall and Winter terms because that was our first time interacting with data outside of the structured classroom environment.
How did your internship prepare you for your current position/career path?
My internship was a nice introduction to the real-world applications of bioinformatics in a biomedical research setting. Post-internship, I decided to continue working with my manager because he is a wizard and there is still so much I want to learn under his mentorship. My current position hasn’t changed much, but I am now making significant contributions to larger, more collaborative bodies of work.
Do you have any advice for prospective students?
Be comfortable with uncertainty. The classroom assignments are intentionally vague because their goal is to mirror the messy real-world data you’ll encounter in your internships. This helps you sharpen your intuition as a bioinformatics scientist because you first need to figure out what you don’t know before you can even attempt to solve the problem. As a wise man once said, “Google it!”