Biocomputational engineers work at the nexus of biology, computer science, statistics, and programming. Recognizing this, we spoke with Divya Patel, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Pfizer and an alum of the University of Maryland's Fischell Department of Bioengineering. Divya shared her insights on the future of biotech from the perspective of working for a company positioned at the frontlines of COVID-19 defense.
Q: In your opinion, what are some of the greatest ways biotechnology has impacted society? What do you think the future of biotechnology looks like?
Divya: Biotechnology has really allowed us to blur the lines between fields and you can see it in its diverse applications. It’s the innovative solutions to biomedical problems – through CRISPR or medical devices. It’s the cost-effective way of disease diagnostics. It’s the next generation of affordable and sustainable farming. It's artificial intelligence. It is literally in every aspect of our lives. With increasing knowledge and understanding of this powerful tool also comes increasing responsibility to the society. It starts with free sharing of knowledge and information. There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding biotechnology and, as people developing this new technology, it is our job to communicate with the world in a way that everyone can understand so we can progress together in a sustainable and ethical way.
Q: What advice do you have for other students who are interested in pursuing a job at a place like Pfizer, or in the wider biotech industry?
Divya: In general, the advice I would give is to never get too comfortable or be satiated with what you have accomplished so far. This is when you start to stagnate and hinder true progress.
If, for you, that means working in the biotech industry, keep an eye out on general industry trends. For example, a few years ago, immunotherapy was big and it still shows in the jobs that are open for hire. The latest trend is in culture meat, which just gained approval in Singapore recently. Once you find your field or the company you want to work for, look at the jobs they have posted and read through job descriptions of your ideal job. While you are still in school, start incorporating those techniques and skills. These are what we call hard skills. It is equally – if not more – important to work on your soft skills as well. Among these are communication, team work, time management and leadership.
Biocomputational engineers apply their knowledge of computer programming to analyze biological data sets and create new diagnostic technologies for the treatment and prevention of disease. With a foundation in data science, biocomputational engineering graduates will be able to tackle and solve medical problems with large, complex data sets, while understanding the nuances of the research thanks to their life sciences background. In this way, they are more equipped to seek solutions to the specific challenges related to health care and medicine than they would be with a general degree in computer science.
Did you know... the Clark School is now accepting transfer applications for Fall 2021 enrollment in the Biocomputational Engineering degree program?