A Glimpse of the Future: Computational Biology

For many undergraduate students, the future is uncertain. And that’s okay – we’ve still got a few years left to figure things out. But it’s always helpful to hear people a few years older than you talk about what they’ve been doing since graduating, and how they got to where they are. Recently, Berkeley Connect students interested in Computational Biology got the opportunity to ask a panel of graduate students majoring in Computational Biology about their experiences. The panel included five PhD students: Amy Ko, Robert Tunney, Brooke Rhead, David DeTomaso, and Jeffrey Spence.

The undergraduates in attendance were shy at first about asking questions, perhaps intimidated by the impressive resumes of these PhD students. However, Spence urged the students, “Don’t be scared of us. We’re young people, just like you.” With that, students opened up, and started asking the graduate students about their education and careers.

Every one of the PhD students had a different path to attending grad school with a focus on Computational Biology. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Tunney said, “I had no desire to go to grad school, and I had no idea what Computational Biology even was.” After teaching high school for a few years, however, he started teaching himself to code. He became very interested in math and coding, and thus was inspired to head to grad school to learn more and do research. Rhead, on the other hand, worked for Johnson & Johnson for a few years before deciding to go to grad school. She explained, “Seeing how powerful a couple of lines of code could be really inspired me.”

All of the grad students on the panel are currently doing research in different labs. One student asked, “How did you choose your lab?” In response to this, Spence emphasized the importance of always meeting the research group you’re interested in. The other grad students agreed. “It’s really important to observe group dynamics in lab visits, and make sure it’s a good fit for you,” advised DeTomaso.

Many students in the room had questions about the overall experience of attending grad school. The graduate students had some great pieces of advice to offer. “Be honest about what you don’t know,” advised DeTomaso. “You shouldn’t feel dumb if someone says something is easy or trivial that you think is hard. That just means they don’t know to explain it.” Along those same lines, Spence recalled, “I thought I was an expert coming in, but quickly found out there was so much to learn.”

The Computational Biology PhD students were very enthusiastic about their research, and happy to share their experiences with younger students. Tunney gave one closing piece of advice to the room: “Hustle for what you want. And don’t stress too much about grad school, because things tend to work out.”

Posted by Madeline Wells, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant