Data Science and Statistics
Can you describe the degree you are currently pursuing?
I am currently doing my Ph.D. in Quantitative and Computational Biology at Princeton University. The program I am pursuing is about basic science research, uncovering the fundamentals of cellular biology. How do cells work, how do genes work, how do proteins work? What are the laws that govern them? What are their behaviors? And more importantly, how do these behaviors affect different kinds of diseases? There is a theoretical aspect to it, which is just how things behave. There is also an applied aspect to it, which is: how does this apply to diseases? How can we help build better solutions for diseases?
What is a big question, academically, that you are thinking a lot about in your studies and your research?
I am focused on the fundamental laws that govern the behavior of proteins. We know how proteins behave and what they do, but we have no idea how. Studying the molecular dynamics of proteins is very hard. People have been able to build these mechanical and theoretical models, but they are not verified. Essentially, you can get a sense of how the protein moves in its space. What I am trying to understand is whether the motions of these proteins and the way they move around in their own time are connected to the way they behave or the kind of functionality they assume at a particular time. Maybe this can explain the causes of a disease. If we figure out what makes a protein open up its disease-causing part, we can essentially fix it at its root.
Which Minerva semester or summer stands out for you in terms of your professional development?
My interest in computational biology came out of my third summer internship that I did at Novartis. Novartis is a big pharmaceutical company based out of Basel, Switzerland, and they have a big office in Boston. I interned for them in my third summer as a Computational Biology Intern. I did genomics, comparing many disease samples straight away to see what is special about them when you compare them to normal samples. I was surprised at how far we have come in our understanding of gene regulation and quantifying the behavior of cells. There is so much that one can do in this field right now that most biologists will tell you we have more data than we can currently analyze. That is really exciting. During my internship, I worked with quite a few data sets and I was able to get a lot done. I had a great time with my mentor. I think it was a combination of a few things: being able to make an impact, having a lot of things to explore and new things to learn, and having good mentorship. That is when it hit me: this is the kind of work that I could do for a longer period of time.
What are some learnings from your Minerva classes that you find yourself applying to your work?
There are a lot of skills from my Formal Analyses course that I apply because I am a computational biologist. A lot of it is about correlations, causations, validations, and statistics. We have to go a lot deeper than we did at Minerva, but the fundamentals of statistics that I learned at Minerva were really helpful. The fundamentals of my computational skills, especially in modeling and machine learning, were set at Minerva, especially with Professor Scheffler. I think those computational skills and just general research skills from Formal Analyses were the two main things that came out of Minerva that help me to this day.
Can you talk me through your Capstone project? In what ways do you think your Capstone work informs what you are doing now?
My Capstone project actually came out of my summer internship. I did an analysis, called RNA sequencing, where you quantify the number of genes that are being expressed in a single cell. Then you can compare that to see what genes are varying and what genes are the same in diseased tissues versus normal tissues. A lot of that workflow is very, very simple, and always the same. So, I built a web application with a dashboard showing six standard visualizations, that people can access, upload their data, and it will automatically analyze their dataset.
If you were inspired by Sohit's story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.