Meet Simone Webb, Bioinformatics and Immunology PhD student

2 Dec

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I am spotlighting scientists who code for my students who are learning to code in Python. Today, I’ve chatted with Simone Webb from the UK. Simone Webb is a PhD student in the group of Professor Haniffa at Newcastle University in the UK.

Pleuni: Hi Simone, how did you get into coding?

Simone: I got into coding during my undergraduate degree, where I took some compulsory statistics and intro to bioinformatics courses.

To be honest, I struggled with it a lot! These courses remain my worst grades during university. However, there was something about it that drew me to it. The maths-based logic of it all really appealed to me at a time where the bio-related content I was learning seemed a lot more uncertain and up for debate. I’m not a natural at it by any means.

I liked how it felt to get an answer correct during our tutorials and stuck with it.

By the time I got to my undergraduate thesis, I realized that my real interest lay in microbiology and bioinformatics. The projects on offer for my thesis didn’t have massive diversity in these fields, so I crossed my fingers and applied for the project led by our first-year bioinformatics tutor – I got in! From then onwards, it’s fair to say that I would always choose coding over wet lab work. My thesis project was purely bioinformatics and I had a very encouraging and hands-on supervisor who was patient with me and taught me a lot to do with coding technique, method and reasoning. After I graduated I knew I wanted to keep coding, whether in research or a non-academic role.

Pleuni: What is your current job or project?

Simone: I’m currently studying for a PhD in bioinformatics and immunology. I now use coding (in both R and python languages) to analyze sequencing data. In this work, code is able to help us understand exactly what cells are present in both healthy and disease tissue, and helps us look further into the role these cells could be playing.

Pleuni: Do you have any advice for students who are starting to learn coding skills?

Simone: If you have an interest in anything bioinformatics related, my advice is to seek out a role model and be brave – ask for their advice and see what you can learn from their experiences! Also, there are active online communities for women in STEM, women who code and people who are Black in academia. Reach out if any of these groups relate to you and know that you are not alone

You can find Simone on twitter under her twitter handle @SimSci9 !

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