Sarah Nyquist Researches Computational Biology

Sarah NyquistSarah Nyquist is a senior computer science major at Rice University with a passion for computational research. Recently, she has encountered the biggest research dilemma of all: where to attend graduate school to earn her PhD in computer science or computational biology.

Nyquist’s interest in computational biology stems from her experience working in a biochemistry lab when she was in high school. After working there for two years, Nyquist discovered her interest in computer science and transitioned to work in Erez Lieberman Aiden’s lab at Baylor, where she could perform both wet lab research and computational research. “I definitely want to go into computational biology, which is a pretty big field,” Nyquist explains, “There are areas in that field that are dealing with genomics and other biological problems like biological networks. One of the things I haven’t really looked at that much –but is really interesting in that field– is electronic health records and dealing with people’s clinical data, finding patterns in diseases and treatment; that data has a lot of potential.”

Currently, Nyquist is doing research with RUSP, the Rice Undergraduate Scholars Program. This program provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at Rice to complete an intensive research project that is similar to a formal thesis. The program offers guidance through the research process, troubleshooting, and applying to graduate school. Most students in the program are pursuing studies in the natural sciences and social sciences, but Nyquist’s research is more computational than most of her counterparts and “involves this technique that’s called Hi-C that describes the 3-D structure of DNA in the cell.”

Nyquist has also experimented in industry work through her internships at prestigious tech companies like Google. During her time as an intern, Nyquist realized she was driven more by intellectual excitement than the engineering process of completing a task. Her true interest is “scientific exploration,” which solidified her aspirations to remain in academia and pursue a Ph.D.

Next year, Nyquist will be attending graduate school and has been considering many impressive offers from esteemed universities. She has been debating whether she wants to travel to a new location or stay in her hometown of Houston, whether she wants personal attention from professors or more independence, and whether she wants her focus to lean more towards computer science or computational biology. Ultimately, Nyquist decided to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue her Ph.D. in the university’s computational systems biology program.

-Molly Reilly, Computer Science Assistant Publicist