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Sally Claridge

Undergrad: University of Oregon
Internship: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Currently at: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

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

To create figures for my undergraduate thesis project, my mentor would send me her commented R scripts and suggest that I identify what the functions do and try to recapitulate the analyses. Despite not having really seen, much less read, code before, I loved the challenge and spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out what it all meant; I even went on to pursue extra coursework in Perl and Python. One of the bioinformaticians in the lab noticed my interest and pointed me the direction of the BGMP, an ideal blend of programming, biology, and professional development.

What was the intensive summer like for you?

Having started in the program right out of undergrad, the summer class load felt like any other term. However, the teaching/learning style was much more hands-on and interactive than typical undergrad coursework, which made each project seem much more dense and difficult but also at least twice as rewarding. The intensity of summer term promoted a strong sense of camaraderie in our cohort too, which made it all the more unique and impactful.

Where was your internship?

The Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS), the medical school for the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.

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

I have been working on an independent research project exploring how well numerous public cancer genomic datasets recapitulate known clinical associations. While I worked with my mentor to develop the project and have his guidance on directions to explore, I have been responsible for nearly all analyses and am heading up the writing process for eventual publication. Towards this end, my days are the odd mix of reading journal articles, attending relevant seminars, fleshing out my statistics background, running analyses and creating figures in R, and writing up results.

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

Absolutely! With a strong foundation in programming and data interpretation, I was well-prepared to tackle new analyses, effectively utilize bioinformatic resources, and clearly communicate my methods and results. Having exposure to a diverse array of databases, file formats, and packages has been invaluable as I continue to push the boundaries of my project.

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

After the internship ended, I continued as a staff data scientist working with my mentor, and I decided to stay on longer-term as a PhD student in Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences here at the ISMMS. Coming from an evolutionary biology background, the internship was key in exposing me to precision medicine and translational cancer genomics, fields with which I had no prior experience. For most of the internship, I had the unique opportunity to drive my own project and be solely responsible for progress, which has been indispensable training for my future as a research scientist.

Do you have any advice for prospective students?

If you’re looking for collaborators or help with specific analyses, don’t be afraid to write cold emails to other researchers and PIs with whom you are interested in working; you never know what kind of great relationship will result! Additionally, try to make friends with people who are are conducting research outside your wheelhouse or aren’t even involved in research. Their perspectives and networks have the potential to greatly enrich your experience at your institution/company, both professionally and personally.