I was one of those students who didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I started graduate school. My background was in genetics and molecular biology, but I didn’t have as much experience with the computational and statistical tools driving these fields forward. As such, I greatly appreciated how much flexibility this program offers new students. I was able to rotate in labs that did different types of work and gain both familiarity with different methods and get a feel for what a Ph.D. in each area would mean for me. I could have taken a year off and spent time in those sorts of labs at home in the University of Texas, Austin, but instead I was able to experience all three of the Tri-Institutional campuses: I rotated in a lab in Ithaca that specialized in population genetics, a lab at Weill Cornell that specialized in cancer biology and treatment, and a developmental biology lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK).
I am now working in a lab whose focus is on developing computational methods to study and model gene regulation, especially in the context of cancer. One of our strengths is the extent of our collaborations. For instance, we are investigating colorectal cancer in collaboration with several doctors, one of whom is the head of colorectal surgery for MSK. This collaboration enabled us to obtain genotypes and sequencing data from around 200 patient tumors, and with this data we can find new gene signatures relevant for cancer progression and treatment. This type of data isn’t as readily available outside of the institution and it is an exciting opportunity to be able to work with it.
I wanted to be a doctor at one point but the idea of working with only a few patients at a time sounded limiting. I love the idea of working with hundreds of “patients” simultaneously and developing tools and knowledge that will potentially help many more people in the future. There are definitely a lot of people here who want their work to matter on a broad scale.