Here is what our grads have to say about the Summer Institute (please note that this program was previously named “BIG”/Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics).
Year of Participation: 2020
Undergraduate Institution: Brigham Young University
Major: Biostatistics and Mathematics
SIBMI was one of if not the highlight of my undergraduate education. Not only was I able to work directly with experts in spatial-omics and single cell sequencing, but I had the opportunity to hear and learn about research projects from multiple faculty members within the Department of Biomedical Informatics among others. I consider my growth as a researcher in addition to the interactions I had with 'quantitative' scientists and physicians so dedicated to improving patient health to be invaluable.
Over the summer, I worked with Dr. Peter Kharchenko and his lab to design a simulation for a spatial-omics pipeline. He and others demonstrated incredible patience and support throughout the internship. Dr. Kharchenko and his lab's commitment to improving our understanding of basic human biology and health was inspiring. I found the support I needed to excel and learn.
In what has been a year of immense uncertainty, the SIBMI program director Dr. Churchill and affiliates demonstrated to me the leadership that exists within this program. Despite the internship being remote, their dedication to ensuring our success and growth was nothing short of amazing. I would encourage anyone to reach out to me if you have questions!
Undergraduate Institution: Columbia University
Major: Computer Science and Neuroscience
SIBMI is one-of-a-kind! In many ways, my experiences at the Summer Institute have been fundamental in nurturing and maturing my ideas of how computer science can be used to improve health care. The insights that I have gained from my interactions with faculty have not only furthered my abilities as a researcher but have also been instrumental in shaping my perspective of the future.
I had the wonderful opportunity to be directly mentored by Dr. Marinka Zitnik. I developed a deep learning model to predict potential treatments for rare diseases. I worked directly with Marinka and discussed my progress with her every week. She was a wonderful mentor, who simultaneously encouraged my own ideas and used her expertise to guide me. My technical skills in research grew so much during this project that I have continued to work on it even after SIBMI ended.
During our year, the program was structured so that we had a lecture from a distinguished faculty member every morning and then spent the remainder of the day working on our research projects. All of the lecturers really took the time to present their research in a lucid and engaging manner. In addition to explaining their research, they included their perspectives on the field, the challenges they faced as researchers, and many even shared their life stories and career choices with us. Since I am hoping to pursue a Ph.D. in bioinformatics, their insights about the field and perspectives on career paths have been invaluable to me.
While our program had to be organized virtually due to the pandemic, Susanne and the SIBMI staff did an amazing job of making us feel comfortable and at ease. Lectures felt extremely interactive and open despite the communication barrier that is Zoom. I was in India for the summer, and everyone was super accommodating of the time difference. I am so grateful for SIBMI because it kept me intellectually stimulated and engaged during an otherwise mind-numbing quarantine.
This program has been an incredible experience, and I recommend it strongly to anyone curious about the intersection of computer science and medicine. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about the program over email or call. Please reach out!
Undergraduate Institution: Columbia University
Major: Biology and Statistics
The Summer Institute in Biomedical Informatics was an eye-opening and invaluable experience. Over the summer, I was exposed to countless new research areas in biomedical informatics, biostatistics, machine learning, and data science through the speakers that were invited to come and talk with us about their work. Every speaker was incredibly friendly and enthusiastic, and it was inspiring to be able to hear their perspective on how quantitative approaches will transform the way we think about biomedicine. They were also kind enough to give us advice on how to choose our own career paths.
I worked with Professor Tianxi Cai to develop and apply statistical/informatics methods to analyze electronic health records data. In particular, we developed methodology for probabilistic patient health record linkage as well as approaches for performing statistical inference using linked data. Professor Cai was an amazing mentor who was always available to talk about our research or give career advice.
This was a fantastic opportunity, and I admire Susanne, Erica, and the other SIBMI staff’s enthusiasm and dedication for making this program a success. Please reach out anytime if you would like to know more about the program!
Undergraduate Institution: Harvard University
Major: Math and Computer Science
While our year of students was sad to not be on the Medical School campus, participating in the Summer Institute virtually showed me how engaging and impactful this program is. Even despite the obstacles presented by the virtual setting, the program provided us with amazing mentors and research projects, allowed us to hear from a wide range of experts about fascinating topics in bioinformatics, and connected us in a research community.
Over the summer, I worked with the Manrai Lab to use differential privacy to create accurate and private genetic risk assessments. I worked directly with my PI, Raj Manrai, and met with him frequently to discuss my project and possible future directions. Raj was amazing at both allowing me to choose directions that were interesting to me while providing his expert guidance on what might be fruitful. I loved how this project allowed me to connect my interests in computer science to a project that could have a real positive impact on medical care and I am continuing to work with Raj on this topic past the summer.
Outside of my project, the daily talks from DBMI faculty, affiliates, and outside invited speakers gave us an amazing stream of topics on the frontiers of biomedical research. Sometimes these talks provided concrete skills and sometimes they suggested interesting topics to explore, but they were always a great part of my day.
Finally, the advising and mentorship provided by our program director, Dr. Churchill, and other faculty in DBMI were invaluable in helping me navigate college and think about my plans for after graduation. It was great to be able to have conversations with them and benefit from their experience.
I’d be happy to talk about this program; please reach out!
Undergraduate Institution: Howard University
Major: Applied Mathematics
My experience at SIMBI gave me incredible exposure to a world of cutting-edge research in a wide variety of interesting topics. My summer there was a virtual one, but I still feel a close connection to the people I met and worked with. I really admire the SIBMI staff for their dedication to making sure that we could still have this experience in a new format.
Every day we had speakers in the top of their fields, each incredibly friendly and open to answering questions with engaging presentations. The lab I was placed in was perfect for me. It combined my past wet lab research experience with my current interests, and I learned so much even in the short time we had together. My mentor and PI were incredibly friendly and accommodating. Although I did not get a chance to meet them in person, we still formed a great bond, and wrote an article about it for Science Magazine (https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2020/10/when-our-research-internship-went-virtual-we-needed-new-mentorship-approach). They are very invested in my future, recommend me for opportunities, and are still dedicated to helping me succeed.
This was an incredible opportunity. If you are at all interested in anything related to the intersection of medicine and computer science, please contact me! The previous attendees were instrumental in getting me interested in this program, and I would love to do the same for you!
Year of Participation: 2019
Undergraduate Institution: Tufts University
Majors: Biology, Computer Science
The Summer Institute in Biomedical Informatics (SIBMI) program has been an integral part of my undergraduate career. Not only has the program provided me with invaluable experience in the field, it has also given me insight into the intersections of biology and computer science and its possibilities. My time at SIBMI has led to great professional and personal fulfillment, and I cannot recommend this program enough.
This summer I worked in the Gehlenborg lab, which focuses on biomedical data visualization. I developed an image processing pipeline for Vitessce, a web application for viewing spatial single-cell experiment data. I thoroughly enjoyed the work itself, the guidance offered by my mentor Chuck McCallum, as well as partnering with a fellow intern. It was extremely rewarding to work on what felt like an independent project, yet also having opportunities to collaborate with a peer.
Outside of lab, I attended weekly lectures led by faculty from Harvard Medical School’s Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI). These lectures made aware the multitude of career/research options as well as the varying lifestyles accompanying them. As a rising senior, This was crucial for me. I was unsure of whether I would commit myself to research, medicine, or software engineering, but the information offered was enlightening and helped me determine my next steps for when I complete my undergraduate degree.
I am also thankful for the opportunity to meet so many other intelligent interns interested in biology and computer science. Not only could we converse about our areas of expertise, but we could relate on personal levels through activities organized by SIBMI — creating a professional network of peers that’s sure to last past the end of the program.
If you would like to hear more about my experiences in SIBMI and in DBMI, I’d be happy to help!
Undergraduate Institution: Yale University
Major: Biology (quantitative track), Certificate: Statistics & Data Science
I think it’s telling that every day I’m walking to Countway Library of Medicine (our home base), I find myself smiling because this experience is truly one-of-a-kind. The Summer Institute in Biomedical Informatics (SIBMI) not only furthered my interests in scientific research, but such an immersive and intellectually-stimulating experience shaped my specific research interests going into the future. This experience at the Summer Institute was fundamental -- possibly a turning point -- in determining my academic path and career goals as well. Thus, if you are interested in quantitative research and its potential to solve problems in healthcare, biology, or medicine, the Summer Institute in Biomedical Informatics is what you’re looking for.
This program is influential in three key areas: SIBMI provides you an opportunity to work with experienced mentors who have similar research interests as you, supplements your exposure to biomedical informatics with an interactive lecture series comprised of leaders and innovators in the field, and surrounds you with a supportive community of peers and administration.
I conducted and collaborated on research with Professor Tianxi Cai, focusing on grouping medical codes in electronic health records. I was able to involve myself in the research process, teach myself concepts ranging from statistics to machine learning, as well as improve my coding and big data processing skills. The interactive lecture series not only exposed me to the breadth and depth of research questions in biomedical informatics, but it also allowed me to understand how the individuals navigated their academic paths and work-life balance. I’ve created memories with the other members of my cohort that I will treasure – whether that’s making dumplings from scratch, attending a precision medicine conference, late-night introspective talks as we stroll through Boston, movie nights where we projected films in an empty classroom, or watching the fireworks display over the Charles River.
I’d love to help you decide whether SIBMI is the right summer experience for you – please reach out if you have questions.
Undergraduate Institution: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Majors: Computational and Systems Biology
Currently: 5th year of BS-MS 5 year program
If you are debating about applying to this program, just do it! I didn’t think I would make it, but am so glad I applied, and grateful that I was given the opportunity to participate in Harvard’s SIBMI.
The program is unique in the fact that it is a very holistic experience. Not only did I get my feet wet with research, but I also got to attend talks and conferences led by cutting-edge researchers who are leading the movement for using computational tools to make healthcare better for all. Interacting with these people (and really everyone in the department), immersed me in the most innovative environment I have ever been in. Being surrounded by the world’s most driven, hard-working, and brilliant people is daunting, inspiring, and humbling all at the same time.
The program does an incredible job of matching participants to mentors who have projects that are interesting and challenging, yet doable. I had the privilege to work in the Zak Lab with Dr. Kun-Hsing Yu to make a pathology slide image classification pipeline using deep learning, while simultaneously integrating genetic and proteomic data to gain more insights about the model’s predictions. Although I had brief exposure to the basic ideas of the subject matter beforehand, the learning curve was steep. However, Dr. Yu was incredibly patient and met with me every day, answering my questions and filling in the holes in my knowledge. In addition, the grad students, researchers, and other interns were all very willing to lend a helping hand. I found myself grabbing lunch with post-docs to get their advice, or seeking help from other interns late at night while cooking kung-pao chicken. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive and non-judgmental environment to learn in. As our program director Dr. Churchill always reminded us, the summer was about the process, not the results.
I also gained much needed advice about choosing my career. Dr. Churchill, Dr. Kohane, and all the other people in the department made it an effort to be accessible to us and answer our questions about how to make some big life decisions. Transparency about work-life balance and insight into what it is really like to be a physician or a researcher (or both) was always emphasized, and I saw living proof of people who have great careers in science while having a very fulfilling personal lives.
But above all, I think my favorite part of the program was the other interns. The group is small enough to get close-knit, and large enough to never have a dull moment. Our down time was spent playing games, grabbing boba, exploring Boston, cooking together, and having a good time. The relationships we built were ones that will last far into the future, and I am blessed to have met such a group of like-minded individuals. This may have been my best summer yet.
Undergraduate Institution: Rice University
Majors: Chemistry, Computer Science
Needless to say, Harvard Medical School, with its surrounding hospitals and world renowned universities, is an unparalleled, biomedical research hub. The Summer Institute in Biomedical Informatics brings this endless reservoir of knowledge and mentorship right to your fingertips, and gives you the opportunity to explore this exciting and amorphous intersection of biology, medicine, and computation in whichever way you’d like.
While there is a schedule of invited speakers, I was repeatedly asked by our program director, Dr. Churchill, for more recommendations for whom we’d like to hear from. While I was assigned a mentor and a project, my mentors, Dr. Chirag Patel and Braden Tierney, followed every few lines in our first meeting with “what do you think?” and “does this sound interesting?” In fact, it seems the entire Department of Biomedical Informatics has rallied behind the idea of offering the best mentorship possible to their summer interns, as almost all faculty contribute in the form of a talk, taking on summer interns and meeting with them nearly daily, and/or simply meeting with interns to discuss life, research, and beyond. Being interested in basic science, I was extremely fortunate to work with Braden, a biology PhD student, on a project that elegantly straddled data science/informatics and wet-lab microbiology. We met with Dr. Patel (an informatician) weekly to discuss statistical methodology, then met with Dr. Kostic (a microbiologist) for insights into the biological implications of our outputs. Per the recommendations of Aparna, the “TA” for our program and Dr. Churchill, I further met with a number of PIs and graduate students from across the med school about navigating this world of interdisciplinary work.
If that isn’t enough, the remaining unallocated hours of the day were usually spent with like-minded group of biologists, statisticians, and computer scientists debating Bayesian vs frequentist statistics, attending bhangra workshops at MIT, and organizing the next weekend’s Karaoke outing!
Even after the program, the SIBMI community stays with you through program alumni eager to share their perspectives, PIs and graduate student mentors eager to hear your successes, and Dr. Churchill, a phone call away, eager to offer her years of wisdom and perspective on any personal or career related problem you may be facing.
If I haven’t convinced you to apply yet, please feel free to reach out!
Year of Participation: 2018
Undergraduate Institution: Princeton University
Major: Computer Science
The HMS DBMI Summer Institute is unbelievably unique and afforded me an invaluable summer. For me, the mentorship at DBMI was the largest contributing factor to my positive experience. My research advisor, an expert in his field, took an hour out of every day to meet with me and discuss my project. For example, while I was preparing for the oral presentation, my mentor skyped me at night from home to help me practice. He also integrated me into DBMI by inviting me to a number of events including journal clubs and celebration lunches. Although I’m no longer at DBMI, I’m still close to my advisor – I continue to work on my summer project, and he helped me design another one for my required research at school.
Apart from my own advisor, the program director’s and coordinator’s mentorship were instrumental to my growth at DBMI. On multiple occasions, when I wanted to talk to someone about my future plans or just my life in general, I found myself sitting in the director’s office. She was an incredible listener, and I was able to forge a close bond with her – one that I know will also last much longer than the summer.
This program opened the door to a plethora of opportunities, including learning from and speaking to absolute experts in their fields. I also had the privilege of befriending and getting to know a handful of like-minded, hardworking individuals with whom I know I will stay in touch. Our cohort came from a variety of different backgrounds – computer science, math, and biology, to name a few – but we all shared a strong work ethic and a desire to learn. Moreover, despite our distinctive backgrounds, each one of us took a great deal away from the program and had a remarkably positive experience.
If you are at all interested in computation and/or medicine, I cannot recommend this program strongly enough. Please reach out to me with any questions – I’m more than happy to chat with you.
Undergraduate Institution: Vanderbilt University
Major: Four-Year Accelerated Graduate Program, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
For anyone interested in biomedical research, it becomes important to “take the plunge,” immersing him/herself within the nitty-gritty of his/her field of interest. The Summer Institute in Biomedical Informatics (SIBMI) provides just this opportunity for “quants” interested in exploring computational approaches to some of the most pertinent problems in healthcare and the life sciences.
My SIBMI experience was definitely transformative, helping me hone my critical thinking skills through participation in the investigative and didactic portions of the program. The guest lectures were tailored to a wide range of student interests and conveyed the integrative, holistic nature of biomedical informatics. These sessions were very informative, going into depth on recent advances and workflows across the field, including the application of computational insights to fascinating case studies in the biomedical space. All the speakers were amazingly enthusiastic, passionate, and interactive with our group.
The Institute is great at matching students and mentors with similar investigative interests, allowing students to complement their ongoing research with projects that captivate them. Thus, I had the privilege of working on a drug development project with Dr. Andy Beam in the Kohane lab, applying machine learning techniques to predict the risk for fetal toxicity among a cohort of small molecules commonly prescribed during pregnancy. This work was directly related to my previous experience and helped arm me with a set of new tools I can now apply to my work going forward. In fact, SIBMI is incredibly supportive of students continuing their research with their mentors past the summer, and mentors are vested in ensuring that their students achieve a fulfilling experience. Needless to say, mentorship is definitely a strong-point of this program, and mentors regard students’ interests as extremely important. Numerous times throughout the summer, I was asked, “What do you want to work on?” and encouraged to actively design my own investigation, interact with figures across the Department, and explore my curiosities by going “down the rabbit hole.”
SIBMI is truly an unforgettable experience. I am very grateful to have experienced dedicated, continuous mentorship, and to have interacted with a cohort of like-minded peers, with whom I have forged close friendships.
If you are interested in investigative immersion within the field of biomedical informatics, I cannot recommend this program enough. Please contact me if you would like more information.
Undergraduate Institution: UC San Diego
Major: Computer Science
My time at the Summer Institute was wonderful, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in the intersection of computer science and biology. I was initially on the fence about attending due to a competing offer from a bioinformatics company; however, looking back on my experience in the Institute, I am certain I made the right choice. Your primary day-to-day work will be research, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Sunyaev lab. We are still working together on one of the projects I worked on, and he has been a fantastic mentor through my grad school application process. In addition to research, you will also be attending lectures from 'wicked smaht' researchers from around the Boston area. These lectures were a great way to learn about the motley of research that is conducted at the DBMI/HMS, and highlighted the diversity of research questions that can be successfully interrogated using bioinformatics. While the research and lectures are wonderful in their own right, I cannot overstate the wonderful relationships made in the program. I am still in regular communication with everybody from my year, and they have remained an amazing support network. If you're unsure if the program is a good fit, or are deciding between the Institute and another opportunity feel free to reach out! I talked to prior attendees of the program before I made my decision, and would be more than happy to help you make your decision.
Undergraduate Institution: Columbia University
Major: Computer Science
The Summer Institute at Harvard DBMI was perhaps the most valuable experience I have had, and will have, during my undergraduate degree. This program both provided me with an intellectually challenging environment with room for endless learning in bioinformatics and equipped me to make an informed decision about how I would like to be involved in research in the future. Being given the freedom to essentially control the direction of my own research project was daunting at first, but the difficulty of this challenge made it all the more rewarding to see it through to the end. The ability to do this, of course, was only possible because the Summer Institute ensures that each intern is paired with mentors who become invaluable resources over the summer, as my mentor was for me. Although my mentor ran her own lab, her dedication to her lab members, and the additional mentorship from graduate students in the lab, enabled me to receive crucial advice throughout the summer, on not only my research project, but also graduate school and career possibilities.
In addition, every lecture and interaction with faculty at DBMI made me significantly more aware of the multiple ways in which I can choose my path through graduate school and into a career. The Summer Institute’s organizers succeeded in choosing a diverse group of researchers in the bioinformatics community to share their knowledge and career paths. Being exposed to this variety of personal and academic backgrounds, life trajectories, research focuses, and motivations for doing research, made me confident in the inclusivity of the research community, specifically at Harvard Medical School. This is an environment I would jump at the opportunity to be immersed in again, and I encourage any prospective applicants to do the same.
Undergraduate Institution: Cornell University
Major: Biological Sciences, Computer Science
Summer experiences, though short and brief, can be so incredibly valuable and transformative. My experience this past summer here at the HMS DBMI Summer Institute was nothing short of extraordinary. Every single week was jammed pack with experiences I will never forget. Multiple times a week, world-renowned scientists and absolute leaders in their respective fields of research would lecture and engage in intimate discussion with us. For my research, I was mentored closely by professors and researchers whose sole goal in mind was to help me learn and become a better scientist myself. They would push me to think in novel ways and never gave up when I didn’t understand something. To top everything off, this summer I met some of the most like-minded people I’ve ever encountered. I got to hear their inspiring life stories and watch them act as excited about their research experience as I was about mine. I developed close relationships with the other students in this program that I know will last for a long time to come.
Overall, this summer program exposed me to all of the vibrant and exciting areas of research going on in the field of biomedical informatics and has shown me a glimpse of what the future of medicine will look like. My experience has invigorated my passion and enthusiasm for this area of research and confirmed for myself that this is something I’d be excited to pursue as a career. The sense of community, mentorship, and tradition of pushing boundaries at the Department of Biomedical Informatics were the catalysts for perhaps the most enriching experience of my undergraduate career. If you have any doubts on whether this program is right for you, reach out and let’s talk, I’d love to help out in whatever way I can.
Year of Participation: 2017
Undergraduate Institution: Wellesley College
Major: Computer Science
The HMS DBMI Summer Institute afforded me unparalleled insight into the biomedical informatics research world. Experts in this field took time out of their day to teach us various topics in bioinformatics, while also sharing their own career paths and advice. Additionally, being a student in this program led to discussions with mentors, peers, and other faculty that helped me navigate an area of uncertainty: my future career. By the end of the summer, I had developed a sensible, if not comprehensive, understanding of the present state and future directions of biomedical informatics research – and my role in that future.
The mentoring I received throughout the summer is truly a hallmark of this program. The program director’s, coordinator’s, and teaching assistant’s mentorships were instrumental in my growth throughout this program, and their support and efforts were incomparable. Throughout the process of my project, my research mentors were engaged and supportive, while also giving me intellectual freedom. They met with me at least once a week throughout the entire summer and would ask me questions such as, “What do you think?” when reviewing our results. Moreover, they asked midway through the program, “Is there anything we can be doing better as your mentors?” These questions attest to their genuine, successful efforts in being fantastic mentors.
Lastly, my fellow interns were instrumental in making this program such a positive experience. We learned from each other daily and made great memories throughout Boston. To be surrounded by a diverse group of intellectual and well-rounded students hailing from numerous institutions across the country was truly a blessing.
For any student interested in the medical and/or quantitative field, I strongly encourage you to consider this program. Harvard Medical School’s Department of Biomedical Informatics is a collaborative and positive environment filled with inspiring intellectuals pursuing life-changing research. I know that many years down the line, I will still look back on this experience as one of the most instrumental in my growth as a student, person, and academic.
Undergraduate Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Biomedicine is in a constant state of flux and innovation. The hardest challenge for any aspiring researcher is how to align one’s interests and passion with the experience that will allow them to thrive on that shifting landscape. The best way to do this is to get close to the source of innovation: the brilliant researchers inhabiting the intersection of biology and computer science at the HMS Department of Biomedical Informatics.
My time here was so formative. Getting placed into an amazing lab (the Gimelbrant Lab) and meeting with weekly guest speakers provided two vital things that are still shaping how I approach my future: perspective and skill exposure.
For nine weeks, I was transplanted right into the cutting edge of the field. My quantitative skillset grew immensely. Working daily with my mentor Dr. Sébastien Vigneau led me to an intimate familiarity with new cell sequencing techniques, software tools, and how to use code to manipulate massive sets of biological data. (These skills even transcended my summer project, and now I apply them at my home institution in my personal research.) In lectures and seminars, I was able to see the unfolding of beautiful work that is doing things like reshaping approaches to precision medicine and adding dimensionality to cancer genetics.
In addition to seeing where the field was currently, I got to hear how these great minds envision the future of medicine and all the new directions yet to be explored. To be an undergraduate with this kind of perspective is game changing. This collective wisdom generously imparted by Susanne Churchill, Zak Kohane, Jean Fan, members of my lab, and all the guest speakers has permanently changed how I will approach my future as a scientist.
My advice in one sentence: do it. This program can only change you for the better. And if your peer interns are anything like mine, it will feel like you are home (plus, Boston in the summer is incredible).
Email me if you need some straight-forward convincing.
Undergraduate Institution: University of Washington
Major: Bioengineering and Mathematics
Prior to participating in the HMS DBMI Summer Institute I had only done wet-lab research; my summer in Boston opened my eyes to a whole new world of computational work. Having the opportunity to spend a summer at HMS was one of the most enriching experiences of my undergraduate career, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in combining math, computer science, and biology with medicine. I was terrified coming into the program because of my lack of computational experience but was warmly welcomed into an environment where I was supported and pushed to heights I couldn’t imagine. What makes the Summer Institute so special and conducive to learning is not just the exposure to world-class professors and researchers, but world-class peers as well. I learned a lot from the other interns and was inspired by each one of them to do more than I ever thought I could. No matter your background, if you have a passion to bring together quantitative skills to improve the way we think about, prevent, treat, and cure diseases the HMS DBMI Summer Institute is one of the most rewarding and unique experiences to do so.
Undergraduate Institution: Yale University
Major: Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry
My summer at Harvard/MIT was a wonderful experience. I came in with an interest in applying computational techniques to biology and medicine, but in retrospect, I really didn’t have a clue how expansive the field is. The lecture series was a fantastic crash course in everything from single-cell genomics to clinical decision support, led by some incredibly accomplished people. Moreover, the program was kind enough to treat us to lunch with the speakers every week, where we could ask pretty much anything about their lives and careers. All of this gave me a unique appreciation for the many areas where science is moving, and a clearer idea of where my own career could fit in.
As for the research component, I was lucky enough to be matched with Raj in the Zak Lab, where I worked with clinical interpretations of genetic variants. It introduced me to the exciting world of clinical genomics: all the awesome large-scale datasets that researchers have to play with, and all the amazing things we can do with them. The other summer students were also working on great projects; in fact, most HMS/MIT labs seemed to have a track record of mentoring students to publications and inviting them to continue working during the school year.
Speaking of other students, I met 16 brilliant peers through this program, all of whom shared both my interest in computational biology and my scattered sleep schedule. It worked out great; we bonded over machine learning, late nights, and Boston in the summer. There were just so many moments when we’d laugh about some dorky joke or conversation that would only happen with this kind of group.
So if this sounds like your type of crowd and these are the things that get you excited, you should definitely apply. I could talk about this forever. If you’d like to hear more, hit me up and I’d be happy to answer questions and hype it up for you.
Sachit D. Saksena
Undergraduate Institution: The University of Texas at Austin
Major: Computational Biology and Biochemistry
The Summer Institute research program was truly the most transformative and rewarding experience of my undergraduate career. I was able to work closely with Dr. Sebastien Vigneau in Dr. Alexander Gimelbrant’s lab in the Division of Genetics and Department of Cancer Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Both my mentor and PI worked closely with me on a cutting-edge project focused on implementing statistical learning techniques to epigenetic gene expression patterns. I was consistently amazed by how invested my mentors were in my progress and development, and—based on testimonials from my fellow interns—all the mentors took their roles just as seriously. They were consistently willing to work exclusively with me for hours on end, and I still can count on their mentorship now that I have left Boston. Also, this program is highly conducive to continuing work with HMS once you return to your home institution.
Besides research, Dr. Susanne Churchill and the staff that organized this program for us provided the highest quality experience imaginable. We were able to develop relationships with some of the pioneers in next-generation-sequencing, clinical decision support and medical technology, and the lectures they gave us were exciting, personal and truly mind-blowing. The lecture series opened my mind to all the roles computational biology/bioinformatics can play in the medical world, and I have renewed inspiration for my efforts in research.
I also had the chance to become very close to my fellow interns in a very short time, and I still value these friendships and connections today. Every weekend (and, let’s be honest, weekdays) we would explore the Boston area, and I truly fell in love with the town. We also got to explore Maine, Pennsylvania, New York and even Canada.
The Summer Institute was a truly immersive experience, and I am forever changed by it. I encourage anyone who is looking to give direction to their passion for science, technology and medicine to apply to this program. If you want to find out more, please get in touch with me, and I would be happy to talk for hours about this wonderful opportunity.
Year of Participation: 2016
Undergraduate Institution: University of Puerto Rico in Humacao
Major: Computational Mathematics
The HMS DBMI Summer Institute in Biomedical Informatics is the most rewarding research experience in my young academic career. The constant exposure to cutting-edge research and world wide leaders in the biomedical informatics realm really broadened my view on how much lies in the intersection of computer science, mathematics, and health. In the lab of Dr. Chirag Patel I had the opportunity to immerse myself in a highly computational project, where we had to come up with a data model and programming scripts for an exposome database. I am glad that I shared this experience with a diverse group of brilliant students and was able to make friendships that have continued after the program. Overall, the program was a wonderful experience and I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to apply their quantitative skills to medicine. There is no better place to do so.
Undergraduate Institution: Williams College
Major: Biology & Computer Science
My experience at the Summer institute opened my eyes to the myriad possibilities in biomedical informatics for students like me. In addition to being given the chance to work on cutting-edge bioinformatics research, I, along with fellow participants, attended lectures twice a week taught by professors and experts from the Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and other institutions in the greater Boston area. The lectures covered everything from genome editing techniques being developed to slow down aging to technology that uses news articles to track the spread of the Zika virus, as well as the subject that is of particular interest to me: the lack of diverse populations in genome databases and its effect on genetic testing for minority populations. I’ve gained a clearer understanding of the possibilities that arise from being able to navigate and analyze large amounts of biological data. My experiences at the Summer Institute and all of the amazing mentors and students I had the privilege of working with have reinforced my interest in a career in biomedical informatics.
Undergraduate Institution: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Major: Math & Computer Science
The Summer Institute was the total package. We got access to cutting edge research, incredible mentors, and the great city of Boston. I worked closely with Dr. Andrew Beam in the lab of Dr. Zak Kohane on two projects that applied machine learning to medicine. The program was flexible, yet demanding, and I could not imagine a better way to spend my summer. Every week, we listened to lectures from world class researchers. Every weekend, our class of interns explored Boston. In addition, we got great career advice from those in academia and in industry. If you want access to something, the people here will make it happen. The program is a perfect way to immerse yourself in the world of bioinformatics, genomics, and big data. I cannot recommend it enough and feel free to reach out to me with any questions.
Year of Participation: 2015
Undergraduate Institution: Duke University
Major: Computer Science
“I hope you are all sufficiently mind-blown.” This is what we were told by the program director every day and is the actual goal of the biomedical informatics summer program. As a pre-med junior currently studying computer science at Duke University, I could not have asked for a better experience – to be immersed in the hub of cutting-edge research that is bridging the gap between healthcare and technology. Better yet, I had the experience of working side-by-side with some of today’s leaders in biomedical informatics. I got to work on a completely innovative project with the thrill of knowing the project was never done before. After the summer I was set on the path of biomedical informatics and went back to school with a much stronger focus. With the experience and a tangible product under my belt, several doors have already opened and I have been able to apply the skills I learned to two coding projects outside of school. All-in-all, attending this program was the best opportunity I could have had and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking a challenging, yet incredibly rewarding, summer experience. I was sufficiently mind-blown.
Undergraduate Institution: UC Davis
Major: Chemical Physics
Attending the summer institute in biomedical informatics was a truly transformative experience for me as a student, a (future) scientist, and perhaps even as a person. Coming into the program I was unsure of where I wanted to go and how exactly I wanted to get there. Whether to obtain a MD, a PhD, or both was a thematic question that I, as well as many of my fellow students, had weighing heavily on our minds. However, as the summer progressed the picture of who I wanted to be, the work I wanted to do, and what I wanted to accomplish began to come into focus. Through listening to and interacting with the world-class researchers and research physicians at Harvard, including my own research adviser, I was able to grasp some level of perspective on the paths and careers available to those interested in biomedical informatics. That perspective, from people who had already walked all the different paths that I was now considering embarking upon, was something I desperately needed, and I will forever be grateful to the BD2K program and its administrator Dr. Churchill for providing me with such a wonderful opportunity. I strongly recommend the program for those who are interested in research and in exploring the intersections of medicine with quantitative subjects, but are perhaps unsure of how exactly they wish to pursue those interests.
Fong Shun (April) Lo
Undergraduate Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Major: Biomedical Engineering, Applied Math and Statistics
Minor: Computer Science
The HMS BD2K Biomedical Informatics program gave me what was easily some of the most rewarding nine weeks of my life. I worked and learned with fifteen like-minded peers, all as eager as I am to use computer science, math, and engineering skills to improve the biomedical world. We had the unparalleled opportunity to hear, learn from, and collaborate with the world’s leaders in big data bioinformatics and genomics. We found out we are needed when there are more problems than solutions and ideas are simply waiting to be formed and executed. We became friends over ideas for improving the biomedical data space, all while performing focused research, gaining valuable skills, and not forgetting to explore the city of Boston! Just as importantly, we connected with researchers of all levels to gain mentorship and insight into academia, clinical research, and the biomedical industry.
Year of Participation: 2014
Undergraduate Institution: Dartmouth College ’15
Major: Biology and Computer Science modified with Math double major
Currently: Harvard Medical School Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) PhD Program G1
I had a wonderful time during my summer as a BIG summer student; I had never really been able to devote myself to research full time, and Harvard was an amazing place to be able to do so. With my work in Dr. Peter Kharchenko’s lab, I had the opportunity to learn cutting-edge techniques in processing single-cell RNA-seq data. Perhaps more importantly, though, I was exposed to the amazing research community Boston has to offer, from the graduate students and post docs working along side me in the lab, to the vast resources of Harvard, MIT, and the Broad. It is in large part because of the BIG summer program that I applied for the Harvard BIG (Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics) graduate program, which I am just starting but already loving!
Year of Participation: 2013
Undergraduate University: University of Washington, Seattle
Major: Cellular Molecular Biology and Public Health
I am a current senior at the University of Washington in Seattle and am double majoring in Cellular Molecular Biology and Public Health. I participated in the BIG summer program the summer after my freshman year in college and found it to be the gateway to numerous opportunities both in research and in clinical study. During my time with the BIG program, my project was focused on increasing the amount of health data retrieved from Francophone Africa through the use of data mining and curation methods, specifically focusing on information about infectious disease outbreaks in these regions. My project has contributed to a vast collection of health metrics that are currently being used to monitor events such as the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This system also allows both the general public and health organizations like the CDC to keep track of the health of some of the most at risk communities. This project served as an amazing internship experience that at the end of the summer extended into a job offer. I still currently work at HealthMap remotely from Seattle as a paid intern and have been building on my project since my summer with BIG. This research program allows students to meet and interact with those at the top of their fields and conduct independent projects that not only create new knowledge, but help build skills that can’t be cultivated in a classroom environment. Students who take part in the BIG program are uniquely challenged alongside the brightest of their fellow students through participation in talks and research presentations and build lasting relationships with other participants. I would highly recommend this program for those who yearn to be challenged intellectually and seek not just to excel in their classwork, but in a research or clinical environment as well.
Year of Participation: 2012
Undergraduate Institution: Washington University in St. Louis
Major: Biomedical Engineering and Mathematics
Currently: Harvard Medical School Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) PhD Program G3
For an undergraduate student who was passionate about science but searching for the right path among graduate school, medical school, and other career possibilities, the BIG summer program was a tailor-made experience. First, I was able to pursue bioinformatics research in transcriptional regulation under the direction of Professor Martha Bulyk. Second, I had the chance to interact with a wide range of leading scientists in the Boston community; they shared not only their expertise but also reflections on their own training and careers. I learned how to rigorously apply quantitative tools to approach basic biological questions, and I learned how the diversity and outstanding work of my peers helped make the BIG community so vibrant. The program was instrumental in my decision to join the BIG PhD program the following year, where I now study evolutionary dynamics with Professor Martin Nowak.
Undergraduate Institution: University of Michigan
Currently: PhD student at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Interim honors: City Year, Oak Ridge High School, FLA; Fulbright Award
The BIG Program was the experience that convinced me to pursue a doctorate. I had done research previously as an undergrad, but I had not decided if a career in a quantitative science or medical science was right for me. The research project I first completed was with Professor Tianxi Cai of the Biostatistics department at the Harvard School of Public Health. That summer we used advanced statistical models to mine public health information from electronic medical records. This experience both gave me insight into how statistical tools can be applied to solve public health problems and also developed my programming skills.I participated in BIG two summers, the second as a peer leader. The second summer I worked with Dr. John Brownstein and the computational epidemiology group at Boston Children’s Hospital. Again applying the statistical toolkit I had developed the previous summer, this new research experience involved using google search queries to model malaria outbreaks globally. Both these experiences in the BIG program were the perfect stepping stone for the Ph.D. in Biostatistics I am working towards today.
Year of Participation: 2011
Yawei (Jenn) Ge, PhD
Undergraduate Institution: Brown University
Major: Applied Mathematics and Biology
Currently: Medical Student in Health Sciences & Technology at Harvard Medical School
I attended the BIG program in the summer before my junior year of college, and it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It opened my eyes to the amazing power of genomics and bioinformatic and thoroughly inspired me to continue to pursue research in this direction. More importantly, though, I was exposed for the first time to the wide variety of career paths that people take that span medicine and research.I was excited to see how these two areas could go hand in hand, where clinical problems motivate the direction of research and where breakthroughs in the lab are then brought back to the clinic. As a result, I am now pursuing an MD-PhD at Harvard Medical School in order to develop a career that involves both patient care and translational research. Through its seminars, career advising, and research mentored by the leading scientists in the field, BIG offers a truly unique opportunity to learn and find what you’re passionate about!