Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Through their lens: Michelle Tran learns programming languages to solve biological problems

This summer we're sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Michelle Tran is an incoming senior at the Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. From a young age, she always had a great fascination for the natural sciences, spending hours out in the neighborhood collecting and analyzing plant and insect specimens out of scientific curiosity. More recently her interest has shifted more towards health and biomedical research and was able to pursue this at City of Hope this summer as an intern in the Department of Information Sciences. Outside of scientific research, she enjoys playing the cello, spending time on the tennis courts with her father, stand-up paddle boarding with her mother, traveling, biking with friends, and hiking.

Michelle sent us this video of her experience:


As of now, halfway through my summer internship, I can declare with great certainty that I have already learned much more than I had expected to learn over the entire summer. Before starting my internship at the City of Hope, my experience with computer programming was limited. I had always been interested with working with computers, but had never taken a formal school or online course in programming. On the first day of work, my mentor, a mathematician and scientific programmer, informed me that I would be working extensively with machine learning, Hugin (a software), and R (a statistical programming language) to mathematically model biological processes. Initially I was unsure if I would be able to work with these tools or even understand the technical language everyone in my department spoke, but now, a little over five weeks later, my aforementioned apprehensions are no longer concerns. I am now editing and running several modeling and machine learning programs in R every day.

Every day since my first here at City of Hope has been part of a great, long learning process. Not only have I become more comfortable working with machine learning and computer programming this summer, I have also gained valuable career insight from everyone around me. Although I did not fully realize or appreciate all I have gathered from others, I now look back to my interactions with people here and realized that I have absorbed valuable information and skills that I could have not gotten elsewhere. Over the last few weeks, I have received great exposure to the technical languages that biologists and computer scientists speak and am able to quickly follow their discussions of their thought processes and methodologies. I have also learned much about communicating scientific results efficiently and effectively to others, especially from my fellow summer academy students who did such great jobs presenting at our weekly discussions. Every researcher and practitioner who I have talked to here has given me wonderful life advice about keeping an open mind to learning new things or pursuing other fields.

Working in my lab at the City of Hope this summer has been an experience that I shall always look back on fondly. No matter where I will be ten years from now, the knowledge I have gained from everyone here at City of Hope will still remain with me.

Michelle Tran

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