Learning How to Bridge the Gap Between Biology and Data Analysis

I’m a Computer Science PhD student enrolled in the BioFrontiers Institute Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology program at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Thanks to the Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award from the Society of Toxicology (SOT), I attended the 10th World Congress in Alternatives to Animal Use in the Life Sciences (WC10) from August 20–24, 2017, in Seattle, Washington.

My main motivation to pursue graduate studies is a desire to research topics or techniques that will contribute to moving the 3Rs paradigm forward: to develop approaches to reduce, refine, and replace animal testing. WC10 was an amazing experience and possibly the most relevant conference I’ve attended to date. I learned a wealth of information applicable to the experiments that my thesis will require. The technical aspects of many of the sessions I attended were directly related to my research interests: novel findings on liver injury response pathways, toxicity studies using differential gene expression, literature mining for relevant information, and even the implementation of a mechanism of action (MoA) ontology, to name a few examples.

I networked with fellow graduate students and seasoned professionals, some of whose work is closely related to my research interests. All the senior scientists I approached with questions were very helpful and excited to share advice. The networking events for young and early career scientists were fun and helped foster a collaborative environment. I also had an opportunity to reconnect with former collaborators and acquaintances I had made during previous SOT events.

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  Session at the 10th World Congress in Alternatives to Animal Use in the Life Sciences

I was delighted to find animal welfare organizations working in concert with scientific advisory boards to promote the implementation of the 3Rs, with an emphasis on replacement whenever possible. It was unusual to interact at the same conference with representatives from organizations such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Beagle Freedom Project, as well as chemical industry leaders, regulatory agencies, and in vitro or cell culture equipment vendors. I was surprised to learn about the existence of many alternatives to animal-based reagents and the advantages of tools such as xeno-free media. I was excited to find out about additional organizations focused on funding 3R-specific research as well as several working groups for like-minded scientists to network and share insights on this topic.

Most importantly, I enthusiastically confirmed the need for more interdisciplinary scientists to help bridge the gaps between the realms of biology and data analysis since I truly believe this will be a requirement to push science forward. Several professionals I talked to about topics ranging from toxicology to differential gene expression assays were pleasantly surprised to find that my background is actually computer science. I owe much of this to the Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology program in which I participate. Despite my quantitative background, I’m very enthusiastic about wet lab research and hope to participate in several of the experiments my transcriptional analysis thesis work will require.

The last few days in Seattle were intellectually stimulating and encouraging, and I’m very grateful to the SOT Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development program for providing me with the opportunity to participate. I returned home with several pages of notes and a stack of scientific papers to read, all of which are invaluable to my research. Moreover, I established relationships with experts whom I can ask for advice and that may spawn future collaborations. I would also like to thank the BioFrontiers Institute and the Olke C. Uhlenbeck Graduate Endowment Fund for assistance in covering additional travel expenses.

The SOT Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award enables undergraduate and graduate students to engage in additional education and career development opportunities to enhance their personal development. Administered by the Committee on Diversity Initiatives, the SOT Diversity Initiative Endowment Fund provides the award that aims to increase and retain individuals from groups under-represented in the biomedical sciences. Recipients of this award are chosen based on criteria that include quality of proposed experience, relevance of the proposed professional activity to a career involving the science of toxicology, academic achievement, and recommendation by academic advisor. 

 

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