Jackie Roger: Undergraduate

Jackie Roger

Jackie Roger is a senior in bioinformatics. She has conducted research in several different labs on campus, and served as a mentor for the BD2K Summer UP. She is currently an undergraduate researcher at Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative. She spoke with us about her passion for bioinformatics and how much she has gained from being a researcher at UCSC.

How did you become interested bioinformatics? 

I became interested in bioinformatics because I was really curious about biology and understanding life- what makes us who we are, how we evolve, what can go wrong in our bodies and how we can fix it- but my whole life I have always really loved math. I started exploring computer science to see if I could use the same ways of thinking and skills that I had used in studying math to look at very qualitative, seemingly unquantifiable aspects of biology in a way that was more analytical and quantitative. 

How did you first get involved in research?

I was part of the Challenge Program at UCSC [now the College Scholars Program], which is a research oriented honors program. As I began learning more and more about the research on campus, I became really interested in understanding how sequencing fundamentally works, and how we can use computers to understand ourselves and our bodies. I started working in Dr. Mark Akeson’s nanopore sequencing lab, and at first is was just this wall of information. I remember sitting in lab meetings and understanding maybe 10% of what was said, but I was so curious! It was fascinating, and it is amazing to be able to use the tools at our fingertips to understand the things that sometimes we can’t really see ourselves. So I wrote a grant proposal for a textbook on RNA sequencing… and I just read it. I learned everything I could about RNA sequencing and I just kept learning more and more, and the deeper I got, the more interesting it became… 

I have worked at a couple different labs at UCSC that have each given me different perspectives. At the nanopore lab I learned a lot about how, on a fundamental level, we can develop tools  and technologies to explore ourselves. Then I worked in Russell Corbett-Detig’s lab, and that is an evolutionary and population genomics lab, so there I learned a lot more about how we evolved over time, and what kind of external forces are governing how we are growing and developing. Then I got really interested in applying bioinformatics to real world problems and I joined Treehouse, and that has been really fulfilling just because it is really meaningful to be working on projects where there is this really direct impact on these kids.

 Tell us a little about your current research. 

I work in Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative, which was co-founded by Dr. Olena Morozova Vaske and Dr. David Housler. Treehouse uses RNA sequencing to find treatment options for kids with cancer, and I am currently working on two research projects with them. One project is to take a pipeline that was developed internally in our lab and prepare it for external use. This pipeline grooms and converts problematic sequence files to be used for a variety of different softwares and bioinformatic tools. The other project that I am working on is developing a method to be able to estimate, given how much data we have and the type of results we are getting, how accurate the gene expression measurements that we make are. This is really important within Treehouse because our whole pipeline is used to make treatment recommendations for clinicians, and so we really want to make sure that the recommendations we are making are based on accurate reproducible results. 

What is the UCSC BD2K Summer program, and what was it like mentoring younger students?

The UCSC BD2K Summer UP is a program to help students from underrepresented groups to get involved in bioinformatics research at UCSC. Students come from a few different schools and they work in a lab for eight weeks to learn about bioinformatics and develop research and presentation skills. This summer I was a program mentor for BD2K, and that was a really cool experience. I feel like I have had such incredible mentors at UCSC, and so much of what I have learned and the passion that I have developed for bioinformatics has been a product of the wonderful mentorship that I have had around me, so it has been really great to be able to take that full circle and provide that same thing for other undergraduate students. 

What is your dream career? 

There are a lot of things I am interested in, and ideally I would love to be able to do all of them. I love tackling biomedical questions. Everyone you meet has knows someone who had or currently has cancer, and working on projects where you feel like you can help people is really motivating... I’d like to pursue a career where I can be focused on these biomedical questions that motivate me while at the same time creating new methods, new approaches, and really working at the intersection of bioinformatics and statistics to build something new.

What is your advice to incoming undergraduates?

My advice would be that you can learn something from anyone- literally anyone. I think that there is such an emphasis, for good reason, on meeting professors and talking to them. I have had such extraordinary professors, but I think even from each other, from other students, from people in different fields, I think you can learn something from anyone if you just keep an open mind and have that approach. We have this massive community at UCSC and everyone is so engaged and so passionate, and I think it is really unique in that way. So that would be my advice. Everyone has something you can learn from.

Department: 
Bimolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics
Degree Program: 
B.S., Bioinformatics, minor in Statistics
Place of Birth: 
Detroit, Michigan