Simon Chow, ISyE undergraduate student, is spending the summer as a research intern studying cancer for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. He is a part of their undergraduate research program to support their work in bioinformatics and computational biology sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Chow wasn’t sure he would be admitted in the program since most of their interns are biology majors, and over 850 people apply each year. So Chow, with his unique background and desire to eventually enter a Ph.D. program, was thrilled when he got word he was in.
In a recent interview Chow gave us the inside scoop on his summer research and how he is putting his IE skills to the test.
Tell us about the project you are researching?
I am working in cancer genomics, which is an area of biology that looks at how cancer spreads and evolves on a genetic level, primarily through DNA analysis. I'm developing a new algorithm that will analyze cancer gene expression profiles. The practical application of the project is that given a set of biopsy samples from a tumor that a pathologist isn't positive is cancer, we want to use DNA sequencing and an algorithm to determine if the tumor is benign or malignant.
Do you think that your industrial engineering perspective will benefit you in this biology focused field?
I think the industrial engineering perspective is a huge strength in the field. I think that the way we are taught to approach problems with a framework built on analytic tools like statistics, optimization, and simulation are useful because they can applied to most situations. For instance, even though I've learned optimization mostly in terms of classic problems like facility locationing or the diet problem, I'm trying to use the same optimization theory to detect patterns of mutation caused by prostate cancer. Even though I don't have the biology background that most of the others have, the analytical tools that I've learned are flexible enough to be adapted to problems in biology.
Describe an average day in your life as a research intern.
Usually I wake up around 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and head to breakfast. The lab provides food and housing, so we stay on campus and have pretty limited meal times. Usually I try to be in to lab around 9:00 a.m. or earlier, but I don't have strict times. I'll work until lunch at 12:00 noon, take a lunch break with the other students, and then head back to work until dinner around 6:00 p.m. After dinner usually I'll workout (rock climbing with the other URP's if I can) and sometime head back to lab for a few minutes to check on code that is running or do a little bit of work. Usually by that time it's around 11:00 p.m. so I'll head back to the cabin for a little relaxing with the other students before going to sleep around midnight.
What motivated you to apply for this position?
My dad is an engineer who designs medical devices so growing up I've always been exposed to different aspects of the healthcare industry. When I was deciding on a choice of college I wanted a field that could combine biology/medicine and math (but no physics or chemistry!).
After coming to Georgia Tech, I started in the spring of my freshman year doing ecological metagenomics research in Dr. Frank Stewart's Biology Lab to get some experience with wet lab procedures and modern genome work. That summer, I took an internship with Kroger's Operations Research group and got to hear about one of their projects that helped reduce out-of-stock prescription drugs by 1.6 million per year so I was exposed to the role that ISyE could play in the pharmaceutical industry while part of a huge company. The following year and since then, I have joined Dr. Turgay Ayer's research group at ISyE, where I've had various projects studying coronary heart disease using a variety of modelling and simulation techniques. Finally, as the student chapter of Institute of Industrial officer my sophomore year I hosted a bioinformatics event where Dr. Eva Lee came and talked about her work in healthcare and all the super interesting projects she has worked on. All this has given me a ton of exposure and introduced me to the breadth of different opportunities in healthcare. In short, I think it's a combination of the amazing work my dad has done in healthcare, and my opportunities at Georgia Tech and Kroger that have really led me to become passionate about this field.
What are you doing for fun while you are there?
It's amazing! Cold Spring Harbor is about an hour from the city, so in addition to the amazing activities in the city, we are still surrounded by tons of nature. The lab is on a hillside of a decent sized harbor and has hiking trails, a beach, and kayaks so there is the best of the city and essentially a nature preserve. The weather is great and seeing the sun set over the harbor never gets old. For fun we have tons of outdoor recreation options both at the lab and on Long Island, and visiting the city is fun on the weekends. Usually a group of the other student researchers goes into the city to explore, shop, or visit museums every weekend.
You have a lot of outside interests, how do you stay so well rounded?
Growing up my parents and school really instilled in me the importance of being well rounded. My school had activities and programs devoted to improving us physically, socially, academically, artistically, and spiritually. Coming to college and maintaining this 'well-roundedness' was really important for me. I really believe that being well-rounded doesn't mean just doing one or two extra-curricular activities all focused around the same thing so it really comes down to scheduling your time really well. I try to diversify my interests to make myself a better person every day and to that end I've sought out experiences at Georgia Tech that will challenge me in different ways. One of the things that drew me to Georgia Tech was the plethora of opportunities available for students that I didn't see at other schools.
Industrial and Systems Engineering