A Career as a Data Scientist
Tuesday, 31 May 2022
Last Term, Y10 girls at Bolton School were the beneficiaries of a virtual presentation by recent leaver Saamin Cheema (Class of 2016), who works for the Wellcome Sanger Institute, a world-leading genomics research institute.
The talk, delivered during a Form period, was part of the School’s Women at Work series and Saamin explained all about her job as a Data Scientist. She prefaced her presentation by recapping some basic Biology and explaining how all living cells contain DNA, and that DNA holds information necessary to develop and build all living organisms. She explained how the information in the DNA is coded as a string of letters or chemical bases that are known as A, C, G and T. That long string of code, she said, can be studied to provide valuable insights into disease and life. DNA sequencing, she went on to explain, is when we determine the order of those letters in the DNA code and produce a long string of DNA that can be studied – and this is the work with which Sanger is involved. To illustrate how much data there is to look at she told how one human DNA genome contains about three billion letters.
Saamin, who began working at the Wellcome Genome Campus in 2021 in what was her first job after graduation, told how the Sanger Institute was involved with the tracking of Covid-19 and its evolution during the pandemic. She then went on to describe her own work in the Cancer Research Department where she is examining the causes of cancer. She said she spends a large part of her day looking at data and graphs and that it is a very visual job as she searches for patterns of mutations.
Saamin explained how there is currently quite a demand for Data Analysts and that there are lot of opportunities in Bioinformatics. She said she feels lucky to be in the role that she is in and very much enjoys the flexibility of working from home or in the office. She said the job afforded her lots of independence but that it was also nice to share results with a team.
Recapping her life to date, Saamin told how she spent 11 years at Bolton School where she studied A Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Spanish and did an EPQ, which she would highly recommend. Her EPQ had been on cancer genetics and was particularly relevant to the work she is now doing. After school, she then took a gap year before university and worked in Bolton School’s Development Department which, she said, helped build her confidence. She then went on to study for a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from UCL where she also developed her coding capabilities, progressing her Python and R skills. She also told how she plans on studying for a Masters or PhD next, although she stressed that you do not necessarily need a PhD to work in Science.
Her strong advice for the Y10 girls was to get involved in as many activities as possible whilst at school. She said they helped build confidence and gave you something to talk about when being interviewed. She told the pupils to heed the findings of the Morrisby Test and to focus on where your strengths lie. She also told how universities and employers love to hear a narrative about how you got to where you are.
In a brief questions and answers session Saamin told how, if she could, she would tell her Y10 self to have more confidence and to take full advantage of all that school offered. She said it was only once she had left did she realise all the opportunities that had been open to her and that Bolton School was not like many other schools.
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