Richard Dannenbaum

Richard Dannenbaum

Richard Dannenbaum

Track: Bioinformatics
Undegrad: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo, CA - Biochemistry and Chemistry
Internship: Stowers Medical Research Institute
Current Job Title: Principal Bioinformatics Scientist II at Roche Sequencing Solutions

How did you find yourself at Oregon? What about the program attracted you?
I was originally considering the PhD program at Oregon, but then I heard about the master’s program and it sounded appealing. It was the first year it was offered and it sounded exciting. I did some research on bioinformatics and got interested due to the demand in the job market – and the fact that I found the computer science aspect appealing.

What was the intensive summer like for you?
I enjoyed classes, I took well to the material. I also appreciated the professional development (interviewing, resume writing, and workshops). I think the whole package is so unique, and so important to have as a part of education… that is what I loved about the program as a whole.

Where was your internship?
Stower’s Medical Research Institute in Kansas City, MO. The whole mission of Stowers is to pursue basic research to further understand the biological background to disease, primarily related to cancer.

What was your internship like? What are you responsible for? What is a typical day like?
When I started I was given a single project. But near the end of the 9 months I slowly developed into the lab bioinformatics analyst. I ended up working on several projects, each of which had their own unique twist. I worked very closely with a few people in the lab and essentially collaborated with them on their lab work and discussed aspects of the data that might have potential. I also did a small amount of bench work to try and test some of my own ideas. I worked on a lot of RNAseq data in fission yeast and lizards.

Did you feel the program prepared you for the internship? In what ways?
Yes, but the internship was really where I did the learning. Having the coding experience from the program gave me a solid footing for the internship. I believe that it served as a good base for me to build on.

How did your internship prepare you for your current position/career path?
I was exposed to so much during my internship, with so many different types of data. I stayed on at Stowers for an extra year after the internship, which enabled me to gain valuable experience. During my internship I was given several opportunities to learn, and I tried to capitalize on those opportunities as much as I could – I believe that has given me a solid start to a promising career.

I now work at The Joint Genome Institute, under the Department of Energy. Because JGI is under the DOE, all projects that are approved by the institute must fit into the DOE mission: using next generation sequencing technology for energy. Most prominently this involves using plants to study the production of biofuels. For example, different fungi can break down plant material, algae can synthesize oil, and different plants are used in the production of biofuel yields. There is a really big “going green” feel to it all.

What is interesting about JGI is that it is a user facility. Researchers from several parts of the country apply to JGI with an idea. I think this is powerful because it allows for a lot of innovation. Several new ideas are proposed at JGI each year. The scientific advisory board ranks these projects based on the scale of the work (which must be large scale) and whether or not the project fits into the DOE mission. Several hundred projects get selected each year and JGI will pay for everything and do analysis of the data: which is part of my job.

Stowers prepared me two-fold. The skills necessary to evaluate NGS data; and the ability to communicate results. I had a lot of one-on-one meetings at Stowers to discuss what was needed and how I could help the project in question. The constant communication between co-workers at Stowers really taught me how to convey information clearly and concisely. Now, at JGI, I am much more removed from the scientists, which makes communication a very important skill.

JGI is a powerhouse in the bioinformatics community, we employ over 200 bioinformaticians. It is a huge learning opportunity for me to say the least. I am super excited to see what I am able to learn!