Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T., Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard combines Boston’s best scientific institutions and multiple scientific disciplines such as biology, chemistry, medicine, computer science, and engineering to advance research in various human diseases. As the pandemic of Covid-19 progressed over the last nine months, it became the leading institution for testing and I was fortunate to find a position there this summer.
Last year, I was working in Professor Maroja’s lab on a primate evolution research that I planned to pursue this academic year too. As the semester came to the end, she connected me with one of her previous thesis students, Tarjinder Singh ’12, who was looking for undergraduates who would like to be involved in his research in human genetics; and thus, I joined a highly collaborative team consisting of me and two other Williams students (Brianna Bourne ’21 and Faris Gulamali ’21) that was personally supervised by Dr. Singh.
I learned a lot about heritability, gene expression, genome-wide association studies, and other cutting-edge developments in human genetics. In addition, I had a unique opportunity to attend weekly MPG meetings where experts presented their research in human genetics, public health, and epidemiology. The theory behind genetics studies is very exciting, but the practical aspects turned out to be more complicated than I had anticipated, so it motivated me to advance my computing and statistical skills and implement them in my own project on the expression patterns of genes over time. To explore expression patterns of 20,000 present genes, I learned how to efficiently program in R and Python, visualize data, and work with data within a cloud computing environment using the Hail program. During the last two weeks of my internship, I was working on the creation of the code in R that would run ordinal regression analysis to discover genes that had the most significant changes over time and then visualizing the patterns. I was extremely excited when I got my first results that showed very small p-values for some genes suggesting a highly significant change over time.
Although I managed to learn and implement new skills in one of my projects during the internship, I also realized how much more I could have done if I was more adept in statistics and computer science. This made me reevaluate my course priorities for the next academic year and start looking for other extracurricular opportunities that could introduce me to these subjects more deeply. In addition, this internship helped me to outline the current frontiers of research in genetics and emerging technologies that are moving the field forward. My mentor, Dr. Singh, not only answered my questions that were directly related to my internship but also provided a lot of insights on his experience of being a postdoctoral researcher at Broad Institute and publishing scientific papers, which satisfied my intellectual curiosity and significantly increased my willingness to continue my exploration of genetics and obtain a Ph.D.
This great experience would not be possible without the help of Jill and John Svoboda and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration. I truly appreciate all your efforts and resources spent on this program.