Recognize that the job you want or will eventually have might not even exist yet. *Shayna Stein

Your unique background will give you a different perspective on approaches to solving bioinformatics problems.
Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Congratulations 2021 graduates of the UCLA Bioinformatics Minor!


We recognize and celebrate our students' intellectual curiosity, creativity and dedication to interdisciplinary studies. They join a unique and exemplary group of graduates who have made their mark in one of UCLA's most challenging academic programs that spans engineering, biology, and medicine. As interdisciplinary scholars, they now have the tools and background to make a difference in a wide variety of fields. We look forward to learning about their future contributions to science and medicine.

We had the opportunity to hear from some of the students during a virtual graduation event to celebrate the Bioinformatics Minor graduates.  Bryan Jiang (major in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics) contributed:

"It was FOR SURE the best decision about my academics I have ever made. What attracted me about the Bioinformatics minor was that it allows students like me with their primary field of study being in a non-computer science related field to be able to explore computer science and see its applications in biology, all without the pressure of dedicating their whole major to be computer science or computation related. What's next for me is that I will work for at least a year in molecular biology before attending graduate school. This minor has given me invaluable skillsets that will certainly be useful as I continue my career in molecular biology."

Our invited speaker and former student Shayna Stein remarked in her speech:

" Graduates of 2021 UCLA Bioinformatics Minor, I must admit it was not until I got to Harvard that I realized what an excellent education and background I had in bioinformatics. For example, the focus on understanding nuances of methods such as what was required for the homework competition continues to be particularly relevant for my chosen career as a computational scientist in the pharmaceutical industry."

The UCLA Bioinformatics Minor allows students to develop an integrated understanding of genomic-scale research. Through a comprehensive set of courses, it provides a solid foundation in active research problems at the interface of computer science, biology, and mathematics. Students explore the genetic determinants of complex human disease, including psychiatric diseases and cancer, the development of computational methods for the analysis of expression data, and the study of population genetics and evolution.

Check out our virtual celebration on our YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/lgCHNawnxx4) or click for more information about the Bioinformatics Minor.



2021 UCLA Bioinformatics Minor Students

Arpi Beshlikyan Wanyi Guo Jason Leung Chaiyoung Seo
Yiwen Chen Bryan Jiang Minh Anh Nguyen Zhuoting Tan
Michael Cheng Patil Kaptanian Mingze Li Wendy Tran
Anweshan Das Naryung Kim Junyu Ma Zitian Wang
Sarah Esparza Nuri Kim Kiara Alyssa Rivera Linxuan Zhai

 

UCLA Bioinformatics Minor Student from 2021 | Shayna Stein

Thank you Dr. Eskin. It is truly an honor to address the UCLA undergraduate class of 2021 bioinformatics minors. Congratulations on your accomplishments! It strikes me, I am also the class of 2021 having just finished my PhD five months ago. I want you to know I empathize with the difficulties and challenges each of you may have faced while finishing up your degree during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I begin with highlights of how my bioinformatics training at UCLA prepared me well for the rigors of graduate education. One fond memory is the class competition Professor Eskin set up for a genome alignment algorithm homework assignment. This assignment spurred my competitive spirit. I spent considerable time making small improvements so that my algorithm would perform at the top of the class.  I didn’t realize how much I learned at the time. But when I look back, I realize that being pushed to improve my algorithm as much as I could gave me a deeper understanding of how alignment algorithms, and bioinformatics methods in general, actually work under the surface. This rigorous foundation enabled me to hit the ground running in graduate school with my own independent research.

I encourage you, members of the 2021 graduating class of bioinformatics minors to define and recognize the rigor and small incremental steps that may be important to reaching your next goals. 

My practical experience in bioinformatics in the laboratories of Drs. Yi Xing and Eleazar Eskin complemented my academic coursework and served as a springboard to build upon during graduate school.  Graduates of 2021 UCLA Bioinformatics Minor, I must admit it was not until I got to Harvard that I realized what an excellent education and background I had in bioinformatics. For example, the focus on understanding nuances of methods such as what was required for the homework competition continues to be particularly relevant for my chosen career as a computational scientist in the pharmaceutical industry.

Graduates – you may each wonder –and ask yourself the question- what can I actually do with my bioinformatics degree?  Let’s talk about that.  In the past, data generation could often be the blockade to completing a project and more and more experiments could be needed. However, these days generating data can often be much easier than figuring out how to analyze the data and what it means. Elucidating the biological implications of mountains and mountains of data can be extremely difficult.  Today, more than ever before, the progress of science increasingly relies on bioinformatics tools – both those already implemented and those remaining to be developed. You are Bioinformaticians! You use and develop computational tools to collect and analyze data. Importantly, you connect data from different sources in order to gain a deeper understanding of biology and drive new hypotheses.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic. The SARS-Cov2 genome was sequenced within weeks of discovering the virus. Bioinformatics analysis was essential not only for assigning meaning to the sequences but also for identifying the mechanisms and sequences underlying SARS-CoV2 entry into the cell and facilitating successful vaccine development in record time. Likewise, bioinformatics is playing a key role in discovering and understanding the significance of the virus variants. However, there is still much work to be done. More than a year and a half after the SARs-Cov2 sequence was reported, the origins of the SARs-Cov2 pandemic are still not fully elucidated. Where did the first SARs-Cov2 infections in humans come from? Are there other viruses that may spillover into humans in the near future that we can be prepared for? What have we learned from the pandemic that can inform us about us preventing future pandemics? Newly minted Bioinformaticians, there is much work to be done. 

Regardless of what your next step is, a full-time job or additional education, your minor in bioinformatics is like a pair of wings ready to unfold and integrate with the skills learned during your majors. I encourage you to follow your passion and spread your wings even if the payoffs may not be obvious or in sight. 

My experience at UCLA resulted in a strong foundation in mathematics, computational biology and bioinformatics. After I graduated, I set my sights on a PhD in Biostatistics, with a concentration in bioinformatics. My dissertation research was entirely computational, as most Biostatistics graduate students’ research is. However, two years into my PhD I realized I needed to go beyond analyzing other people’s data and joined a wet lab to generate my own data. I became the mouse whisperer of the biostatistics department. Day in and day out, long hours into the night, I tended to my wet lab experiments and soon had some of my own data to analyze. This path had its fair share of struggles, but I gained great satisfaction and a deeper understanding as to how medical and biological data is actually generated. You may be surprised that none of these two and a half years’ work actually ended up in my dissertation, yet it was key to my knowledge and skill basket. To some it seemed like a waste of time, and I constantly got asked the question of why I was there. But, as my mom always said, we don’t leave our education behind even if it seems irrelevant to our current position. Instead, we carry our education with us and apply it to understanding and solving new problems with our own unique perspective. And this experience with my beloved mouse colony, while perhaps a circuitous detour, was part of my education. While I didn’t seek a laboratory bench job after graduate school, I’ve travelled down that path and that experience made me better at my current job because it gives me a different perspective than I would have had otherwise.  

For example, my job involves analyzing data generated from laboratory experiments and using the analysis to generate new hypotheses and propose follow-up experiments. I collaborate closely with wet lab biologists to ensure that their experiments are set up for well for downstream analysis and that my analysis is useful for planning additional experiments. If I had never done any of these laboratory experiments, my perspective of what it takes to generate the data could be severely limited. With a PhD degree in Biostatistics and without my wet lab experience, it would be easy to take an idealized approach and wonder why there aren’t more replicates or why the data is so noisy. However, having walked the path of experimental wet lab biology, I realize that noisy data and limited replicates are a reality. Understanding sources of variability, appropriate controls, off target effects, etc.  has improved my ability to conduct biologically relevant computational analyses. 

As you start on your next steps, follow your curiosity. There is no “right path,” there is only the path that is right for you. Every experience you have contributes to your perspective and gives you something unique to bring to the table. I encourage you to think about how your unique experience can contribute to solving difficult biological problems. In my case, my background helps me to bridge the gap between the experimental and the computational. Your unique background will give you a different perspective on approaches to solving bioinformatics problems. 

Recognize that you may have not thought of the job you want or will eventually have, or that the job you will eventually have might not even exist yet. The fields of biomedical sciences and bioinformatics are changing rapidly as new sequencing technologies are developed and more kinds of data are generated. As you put skill sets and experiences in your pocket, remember that even if you are not utilizing them at the moment, they are there for you and are integrated into your very fabric or essence of who you are. Any of these skills are there for your reference and can be called upon at a moments notice. You may never know when, but in general no talent, no knowledge, no skill goes unused in today’s fast paced moving world. 

Thank you again, it’s truly been an honor to address you, the 2021 graduating class of bioinformatics minors. Congratulations again on your accomplishments, and I wish you all the best on your upcoming journey.