Name: Alisha Holloway
Job Title: Director of Bioinformatics
Company: Phylos Bioscience
Basic job description: I direct the data science aspects of our company, which includes directing the development of architecture for our automated analysis pipelines and hands-on statistical analysis of genetic variation data and other data types. During a typical day, I am usually trying to figure out the best tools to use for data analysis and working with software engineers to build out our analysis pipelines. I work pretty normal hours most days with occasional bouts of longer hours and I travel a few times per year for meetings.
What were your graduate studies in? What aspects of your graduate training do you feel have made you more successful in your position? I studied molecular evolution and population genetics in graduate school. Besides coursework and research that gave me the scientific knowledge for my current position, I also learned how to write effectively and to manage projects efficiently.
What was your career path after leaving graduate school? I went to UC-Davis for a post-doc in molecular population genetics where I got to work with some of the first population genetic data from whole genome sequencing. I really developed my bioinformatics skills during that time, which enabled me to be successful in my career. After post-doc, I went to Gladstone to start a bioinformatics service core that supported researchers in experimental design, statistical analysis, and bioinformatics analysis of genomic data. I am also an adjunct professor at UCSF where I have taught courses on analysis of genomic sequence data.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What are your favorite aspects of your job? I work for a Cannabis agro-genomics company. We're working with a plant that has very few resources from a research perspective - a draft genome, a scant few published papers - so there is a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid to understand the biology and genetic variation in this plant. This is both challenging and a favorite aspect of my job because I love new directions and answering difficult questions. We are a small start-up company, so we have to wear many hats and work with limited resources. I just see this as another challenge, but it can be frustrating on occasion.
Do you have any other useful advice for graduate students interested in your field that hasn't been covered yet? I think that the vast majority of students will be well served by learning statistics. In fact, the more math and statistics that you can take, the better off you will likely be in graduate school and your career. I would also recommend learning to analyze data in R - this will be useful for statistical analysis and visualization of data.
When I was in graduate school, I didn't realize that there were so many paths besides becoming a professor. I would encourage students to seek out counselors or other resources to discover the variety of options that are out there. Jobs in industry can be very research-oriented and engaging on an intellectual level!