Chief Technology and Science Officer
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was quick at learning math facts as a kid, and with that head start, I lucked into seeing more advanced mathematics, starting with algebra, with the eyes of a kid: solving equations seemed like a fun game to me. In college and graduate school, I was challenged and humbled – but started seeing how my math courses helped with my science courses, and vice versa, and how my “game” way of thinking (which I now realize was developing ‘algorithms’) was really a bridge to computer science.
I don’t know that I was “pursuing a career in STEM” – I just kept finding ways to stay involved with something that seemed like play.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Best project ever: Genome assembly of the fruit fly. I was part of a small group at a start-up company called Celera Genomics that was banking on us being able to apply “whole-genome shotgun sequencing” to eventually obtain the sequence of the human genome. The fruit fly was our test case. We in the computer science group (which we called the “Assembly Team”) all were so excited by the challenge, knowing that if we could assemble the fruit fly genome, we’d be able to assemble the human genome as well. We worked long, long hours, but we all enjoyed a sense of shared mission and camaraderie.
We were in a set of cubicles, and would talk over the partitions, to troubleshoot problems. We’d meet in a “war-room” several times a week to make sure we were all going in the same direction. And we were able to cheer (literally) when the genome finally came together. The guys I worked with on this project are still my dear friends. Many of us have worked together on later projects, all very very cool, but this project really brought us all together with a huge challenge, and forged friendships and ideals that will last a lifetime.
Role models and heroes:
J.Craig Venter: I worked with Craig for many years, and love his amazing ability to take an intuition or idea and turn it into a project with resources and shared enthusiasm to reach the targeted goal.
Jeremy Berg: Jeremy led the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences from 2003-2011, His training is in chemistry, but he was an active champion of computational biology, informatics, and mathematics at NIH during his tenure. He recently joined Pitt, and is leading its newly established “Institute of Personalized Medicine.”
Jill Mesirov: Jill is director of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at the Broad Institute, and is an accomplished researcher in the fields of bioinformatics, genomics and computational biology. She’s got a great research program, and also finds time to speak with a strong voice on many committees that significantly influence federal research directions.
Why do you loving working in STEM?
I enjoy being able to indulge in play while I work. Developing algorithms seems like play to me, so when that is my agenda for the day, I am really happy.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Particularly with other women in STEM fields. And across levels… don’t be shy to approach funding agencies, etc.
I’ve had a number of projects where all seemed lost, but the women involved were the force that made things turn around to success.
Favorite website or app: