In a way, I like to think that my research interests chose me. During the spring of 2016, I applied to workin the Cardiac Systems Biology Lab at the University of Virginia, headed by Dr. Jeff Saucerman. The Universityemploys a plethora of distinguished faculty spanning various research interests; however, I felt compelled topursue this opportunity in particular.
I had previously taken a course with Dr. Saucerman that exploredcomputational methods in biomedical engineering, and I was intrigued by the idea of employing those methods tosolve complex physiological problems. Little did I know just how much that simple personal curiosity wouldinfluence the trajectory of my academic career.I soon began work in the lab as an undergraduate researcher on an ongoing project – the same project towhich I then dedicated the next year and a half of my life. The primary focus was the exploration of the impact ofgenetic variability on cardiomyocyte hypertrophy; to investigate this, I integrated a novel gene expression data setinto a logic-based computational model of the cardiac hypertrophy signaling network previously developed by theSaucerman lab. Correlation of model predictions with in vivo phenotypic data then allowed me to propose specificnetwork species as novel regulators of hypertrophy.
The secondary objective was the integration of new genes,implicated by strong positive correlation between their expression and hypertrophic patterns, into the cardiachypertrophy signaling network model. I completed a vigorous literature search to best characterize the molecularinteractions between those genes and network species using a logic-based framework. The inclusion of new genesinto the network model then permitted me to reevaluate both the previously proposed hypertrophic regulators andthe predictive capability of the model.To be frank, I would not be writing this personal statement if not for the research experience I gainedduring my time in the Saucerman lab. Throughout the course of that project, I became unequivocally captivatedwith the application of computational modeling strategies to biological systems.
I continue to be amazed that theintricate biochemical complexities of molecular communication can be captured by differential equations similarto ones that I am solving in class. My lab work convinced me that systems biology is the branch of biomedicalengineering in which I want to specialize. Not only is systems biology a marriage of my two academic passions,mathematics and physiology, but working with Dr. Saucerman also opened my eyes to the multitude of ways thatthis field adds value to the scientific community. Similar to my own investigation of the impact that geneticvariability has on hypertrophy, systems biology provides enhanced methods by which to improve individualizedapproaches to medical therapies. We as biomedical engineers are helping to promote new techniques that willrevolutionize patient care, and I want to be a part of the driving force.I have continued to pursue and gain as much knowledge and experience with systems biology as possibleto best explore the diverse research applications that the field has to offer.
I enrolled in a systems bioengineeringcourse that exposed me to mass action kinetics, flux balance analysis, and agent-based modeling. Because it wasco-taught by core systems biology faculty in the University’s biomedical engineering department, that classenabled me to further understand how current research in systems biology is actively changing the practice ofmedicine. Additionally, for my senior thesis, which bridges both a technical research topic and a social researchtopic, I chose a technical project focused on the integration of a pharmacokinetic model into a novel stochasticframework; the purpose of this work is to leverage model predictions to optimize therapeutic index in a widevariety of patients. The social aspect of my thesis investigates the role that human values play in both thedevelopment of computational models and the public perception of them, which allows me to inform my ownapproach to being a socially conscious modeler and engineer.
My journey has made me confident that I want to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering with aspecialization in systems biology because this degree will enable me to both follow my academic passions andwork towards making the difference that I wish to see in the field of medicine.
After graduate school, I plan tosecure a postdoctoral fellowship in the hope of ultimately obtaining a faculty position at a research university. Inaddition to establishing my own systems biology laboratory, I want to become a professor; teaching has become aspecial interest of mine, as I have served as a teaching assistant for four applied mathematics and biomedicalengineering courses in my time as an undergraduate student. As a professor, I want to positively contribute to the next generation of biomedical engineers by inspiring them to see the value of computational modeling in theanalysis of biomedical systems – the same way my research mentor and professors have inspired me.It is my belief that my career goals will begin to be met through my study in the Ph.D.
program at YaleUniversity. The Integrated Graduate Program in Physical and Engineering Biology demonstrates the commitmentacross various departments to developing multi-disciplinary, solutions oriented researchers. Additionally, theprofusion of physical and engineering biology faculty represents an incredible breadth of academic and researchopportunities. Specifically, at Yale, I am interested in working with Dr. Miller-Jensen and Dr. Zucker, as I wantmy graduate school studies to allow me to investigate research problems through the employment of bothexperimental and computational approaches.Although a majority of my research experience pertains to computational models of signaling networks, Iam excited to expand my education and experience in systems biology to various types of biological systems,computational frameworks, and physiological contexts.
I am confident that Yale will offer me the resourcesnecessary to support any avenue down which my intellectual curiosity might take me.