Davila 1Melanie Davila

Major: Genetics 
Minor: Public Health

Graduation Year: 2013

How did you decide on your major?

I chose Genetics as my major because I was fascinated by the little bit of genetics that we learned in General Biology. In addition, I was curious about how our genes impact our health.

What did you like most about it?

I liked that the major offered unique electives and research opportunities. It wasn’t uncommon for professors to bring up current events and research findings during class; that made the learning material more relevant and interesting.

Davila 2What is your current position, what do you, and what do you enjoy most about it?

I currently work at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai where my title is Associate Computational Scientist. In this role, I do software engineering work with a heavy data component.

I enjoy the variety of projects I get to work on. Thus far, I’ve worked on projects spanning diseases such as Zika Virus, Chikungunya Virus, and Lung Cancer as well as different assays like mass cytometry, single-cell RNA-seq, and CITE-seq.

I’m also excited by the meaningful nature of the work. The data processing pipelines that I build, provide researchers and clinicians with the information they need to make the most informed decisions possible which in turn, affects the lives of patients.

What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?

My first job after Rutgers was a volunteer gig in rural Brazil where amongst several duties I served as a STEM educator for at-risk and orphaned youth. I was able to leverage my education in genetics, experience tutoring, and skills I developed while teaching a FIGS seminar to get the role.

How did you move from that first job to your current position?

Following my volunteer stint in Brazil, I worked at RUCDR Infinite Biologics on-campus. After several months, I transitioned to a clinical research role at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where I contributed to pediatric oncology research.

Throughout these experiences, I was frustrated by how clunky and outdated software in the biotech and healthcare industries tends to be and began to learn how to code. After realizing how much I enjoyed coding, I attended an intensive coding program and then transitioned to my current role. It’s certainly not the career path I had in mind when choosing my major, but I’m very happy with how things turned out. I literally get paid to solve puzzles.

Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?

The knowledge I gained through Genetic Analysis and other foundational courses has been useful throughout my career.In my current role, I often need to expand upon that foundation when building new data pipelines or troubleshooting issues.

In addition, the hands-on research required by the Genetics major provided me with a chance to hone my critical thinking skills and familiarize myself with more than just pipetting. As an outsider, it’s easy to overlook everything that goes into research: grant writing, meticulous lab notes, etc. Having been in a research environment as an undergrad helps me work more effectively in my current role where I am in a very similar environment.

Serving as a tutor and FIGS instructor were also helpful. By teaching, I was able to not only “pay it forward”, but also develop communication skills that allow me to collaborate well in the context of a multidisciplinary team.

What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?

Take advantage of opportunities that take you outside of your comfort zone. This might mean enrolling in a class you’re interested in, but are intimidated by or signing up for a volunteer opportunity that will require you to learn a new set of skills. You never know where it might take you.

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