Students Tour GlaxoSmithKline and Learn about Bioinformatics at SAMSI Undergraduate Workshop

group shot of the workshop

Undergraduate students from across the U.S. at the workshop.

About 25 students from around the United States attended SAMSI’s undergraduate workshop October 23-24. Students got to hear about the exciting field of bioinformatics along with a visit to a local pharmaceutical company.

classroom of students sitting a tables

Students at the SAMSI workshop Friday morning.

The workshop opened with welcoming remarks by the Deputy Director of SAMSI Sujit Ghosh followed by introductions of SAMSI staffs and activities. Fred Wright from North Carolina State University (NCSU) talked about genomics and bioinformatics and how the intensity of information is nearly overwhelming, but there are emerging statistical techniques to use and process the flow of data.

Paul Brooks, Virginia Commonwealth University

Paul Brooks, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Paul Brooks, Virginia Commonwealth University, had a stimulating conversation with the students about several logistics of preparing application packages for graduate school and what kinds of things the Math and Stat departments would be looking for that might give the students a competitive advantage.

students on a bus for a field trip

On the way to GlaxoSmithKline.

In the afternoon after having a sumptuous lunch, the students and some of SAMSI’s staff had a real treat. They traveled together to the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline located only a few blocks from SAMSI to hear about how applied mathematicians and statisticians help with the drug development pipeline. Biologists and chemists rely greatly on the statisticians to help them interpret the results in the clinical trials, for example. Alan Menius and Katja Remlinger of GlaxoSmithKline hosted the students and took them on a tour of some of the labs. One of the participants noted that, “The speakers were down to Earth and the workshop was well set up.” Another students said, “I LOVED the tour. It was awesome to see an industry in which math is applied at a higher level every day.”

Later in the afternoon, a session on “Statistical Evolutionary Biology” was led by the SAMSI postdoc Chris Nasrallah with assistance from SAMSI postdocs Yize Zhao and Jyotishka Datta. The tutorial featured hands-on use of software to analyze evolutionary data.. And, Shyamal Peddada from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) gave a presentation on geometry in bioinformatics following a brief description of his own career path.

At the final panel session on Day 1, several of the graduate students and postdocs from SAMSI talked about what it’s like to be a graduate student or a postdoc and what students should think about as they begin developing their careers in mathematical sciences.

Students enjoyed a great barbeque dinner before returning to the hotel.

Alison Motsinger-Reif lecturing

Alison Motsinger-Reif, NCSU.

The next morning’s session started with a recap from Deputy Director Sujit Ghosh and then Alison Motsinger-Reif from NCSU gave an interesting talk about how bioinformatics is used in genetics and personalized medicine, which is an emerging field of work.

Jung-Ying Tzeng from NCSU presented the final talk of Day 2 which was “Regression Methods for Genomic Data Analysis.” Students left the workshop with a very positive attitude towards pursuing their career with further graduate studies; in fact one of the participants stated in her email to the Deputy Director, “I am very happy with the way you are steering SAMSI and from an undergraduate perspective the workshop was very compelling towards pursuing a graduate degree.”

The next undergraduate workshop will take place February 26-27 and will focus on the Ecology program. For more information or to register go to the SAMSI website. The deadline for submitting application is January 9, 2015.

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