An interview with Bioinformatics Programmer, Sweta Bajaj, by Amanda Lydon
Why did you choose a career in science?
I’m interested in working in an area where I can do research together with a contribution towards the scientific community. I am not interested in being restricted to running canned pipelines, and so I thought to pursue a career in life sciences where I have the opportunity to build novel algorithms to gain insights into biology. In school I had coursework in math, statistics, data science and deep learning, but not particularly bioinformatics. The kind of work that you can do with applying both bioinformatics and data science can be really interesting, thus, propelling my decision to join a genomics company like Genuity Science, where I can work with experts in the field of statistics, genomics, molecular biology, etc.
How did you first learn about Genuity Science?
While I was looking for internship opportunities, I came across a posting online by Genuity Science. It seemed very promising to work with Tom in the AI lab on exciting projects involving ML/DL capabilities.
What were your first impressions of Genuity Science?
I was one of the five interns who had joined the AI group which was a large team working on different projects. Each of us were given a challenging project to work on which motivated me to expand my learning capabilities in this area. My first project as an intern was do build a deep convolution neural network on Alzheimer’s image data, and also leveraging molecular data. I had successfully completed this project by enhancing the skills I learned as part my graduation coursework. It was great as this was my first experience applying my skillset for addressing real world cases.
What is the biggest difference between Genuity Science and your previous work places?
My area of work was completely different in my previous companies, and they were well-established companies, where Genuity Science is more of a start-up. My job was related because I was doing data warehousing, and data science is a step forward from that, but the companies were very different from what Genuity Science is doing.
What is the best aspect of your job?
I’m working on projects that are challenging where the goal is to answer complex biological questions, and so it’s not mundane or monotonous work. It’s interesting that I get to work on different projects at the same time, depending on team’s availability and their bandwidth. Recently I finished submitting a paper for which I was the first co-author, giving me an opportunity where I could be a lead on the project. In addition, I like working here because of the work/life balance. Although, we are expected to meet deadlines, the necessity of long hours is not always required.
What is the biggest challenge?
Understanding the biology is the biggest challenge for me. You have to keep up with understanding the underlying biology and statistics, at the same time bringing in new ideas to the table and thinking outside the box. Sometimes you get so caught up in solving a complex problem, that you might miss to think about more effective methods to solve a problem.
What advice would you give someone considering applying for a job with Genuity Science?
In our group, teamwork is definitely important. Also, understanding what problems you are interested in and want to solve. You can’t just apply for a general “data science” role coming into the company. You have to have an area of focus in which you want to move ahead. And, when I joined, I didn’t have an idea of what molecular biology was, or what statistics was, I didn’t know everything about deep learning, but I’ve gotten to learn about it while I’ve been here. There is an opportunity to learn, as long as you have an area of focus.
What’s typical working day or week?
On a regular day, I come in to work on my current project which involves running algorithms/tools in R, Python. I have daily conversations and discussions with my teammates and Tom where we discuss project status, clarifying questions or concerns related to the project.
Who do you work with day-to-day?
I am involved in working on challenging projects, where we get to brainstorm ideas with the group, come up with a game plan to solve issues, meet deadlines in a timely manner etc. Since I am not involved in customer-facing projects, I am not completely aware of activities/projects outside the lab.
If you weren’t a programmer what would you be?
I would still be a data scientist in a different industry. If I had to do something outside of data science – I do have a newfound love of baking!
Do you have any pets?
No pets! I’m not a pet person.
Have you read any good books lately?
Yes, I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carryrou. It’s about Elizabeth Holmes’ company (Theranos) and what happened with that.