Jessica McGillen-Department of Biological Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jessica McGillen

2008 M.S. in Computational Biology Alumna

"Looking back on my Master’s experience, I can say that it has exceeded all of my expectations."

I came to Carnegie Mellon’s Master’s in Computational Biology program because of its interdisciplinary focus and reputation for computational excellence, and I was not disappointed. I entered the program with a background in biological sciences and statistics but little computing experience, and the program’s flexibility allowed me to expand my computational and mathematical skills. I took several electives, including a tough course called Data Structures and Algorithms, which helped me build on basic computing abilities. In just a few semesters, I developed from a complete beginner into a confident and advanced programmer.

Beyond programming electives, the Master’s core courses were especially valuable. Taught by Drs. Robert Murphy and Russell Schwartz, the courses exposed me to a breadth of current problems in computational biology, including sequence alignments, machine learning techniques for molecular imaging, and simulation of regulatory biochemical and genetic networks. At the same time, I learned a wide array of computational methods that will serve as a strong starting tool kit in the future.

Perhaps my favorite part of the program, however, was a Master’s thesis project I carried out under Dr. Shlomo Ta’asan in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. For this project, I strengthened my mathematical skills by developing and analyzing several different ordinary differential equations models of the long-term human immune response to HIV infection. This spring I plan to submit a related paper for peer-reviewed publication, an exciting step for any aspiring researcher. Most importantly, the project gave me the desire to continue similar work at the doctorate level. Currently, I am applying to mathematical biology programs all over the United States, and I feel certain that my Master’s experience has given me both the preparation and the motivation that I need to pursue a doctorate. Looking back on my Master’s experience, I can say that it has exceeded all of my expectations.

B.S. in Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon
B.S. in Statistics, Carnegie Mellon