Student Testimonials

Here is what our grads have to say about the Summer Institute (please note that this program was previously named “BIG”/Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics).

Year of Participation: 2016


Rolando AcostaRolando Acosta
Undergraduate Institution: University of Puerto Rico in Humacao
Major: Computational Mathematics
Currently: Senior

The HMS-HST/DBMI Summer Institute in Biomedical Informatics is the most rewarding research experience in my young academic career. The constant exposure to cutting-edge research and world wide leaders in the biomedical informatics realm really broadened my view on how much lies in the intersection of computer science, mathematics, and health. In the lab of Dr. Chirag Patel I had the opportunity to immerse myself in a highly computational project, where we had to come up with a data model and programming scripts for an exposome database. I am glad that I shared this experience with a diverse group of brilliant students and was able to make friendships that have continued after the program. Overall, the program was a wonderful experience and I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to apply their quantitative skills to medicine. There is no better place to do so.


James DiaoJames Diao
Undergraduate Institution: Yale University
Major: Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry
Currently: Freshman

My summer at Harvard/MIT was a wonderful experience. I came in with an interest in applying computational techniques to biology and medicine, but in retrospect, I really didn’t have a clue how expansive the field is. The lecture series was a fantastic crash course in everything from single-cell genomics to clinical decision support, led by some incredibly accomplished people. Moreover, the program was kind enough to treat us to lunch with the speakers every week, where we could ask pretty much anything about their lives and careers. All of this gave me a unique appreciation for the many areas where science is moving, and a clearer idea of where my own career could fit in.

As for the research component, I was lucky enough to be matched with Raj in the Zak Lab, where I worked with clinical interpretations of genetic variants. It introduced me to the exciting world of clinical genomics: all the awesome large-scale datasets that researchers have to play with, and all the amazing things we can do with them. The other summer students were also working on great projects; in fact, most HMS/MIT labs seemed to have a track record of mentoring students to publications and inviting them to continue working during the school year.

Speaking of other students, I met 16 brilliant peers through this program, all of whom shared both my interest in computational biology and my scattered sleep schedule. It worked out great; we bonded over machine learning, late nights, and Boston in the summer. There were just so many moments when we’d laugh about some dorky joke or conversation that would only happen with this kind of group.

So if this sounds like your type of crowd and these are the things that get you excited, you should definitely apply. I could talk about this forever. If you’d like to hear more, hit me up and I’d be happy to answer questions and hype it up for you.


Susana HawkenSusana Hawken
Undergraduate Institution: Williams College
Major: Biology & Computer Science
Currently: Junior

My experience at the Summer institute opened my eyes to the myriad possibilities in biomedical informatics for students like me. In addition to being given the chance to work on cutting-edge bioinformatics research, I, along with fellow participants, attended lectures twice a week taught by professors and experts from the Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and other institutions in the greater Boston area. The lectures covered everything from genome editing techniques being developed to slow down aging to technology that uses news articles to track the spread of the Zika virus, as well as the subject that is of particular interest to me: the lack of diverse populations in genome databases and its effect on genetic testing for minority populations. I’ve gained a clearer understanding of the possibilities that arise from being able to navigate and analyze large amounts of biological data. My experiences at the Summer Institute and all of the amazing mentors and students I had the privilege of working with have reinforced my interest in a career in biomedical informatics. 


Ben KompaBen Kompa
Undergraduate Institution: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Major: Math & Computer Science
Currently: Senior

The HST Summer Institute was the total package. We got access to cutting edge research, incredible mentors, and the great city of Boston. I worked closely with Dr. Andrew Beam in the lab of Dr. Zak Kohane on two projects that applied machine learning to medicine. The program was flexible, yet demanding, and I could not imagine a better way to spend my summer. Every week, we listened to lectures from world class researchers. Every weekend, our class of interns explored Boston. In addition, we got great career advice from those in academia and in industry. If you want access to something, the people here will make it happen. The HST program is a perfect way to immerse yourself in the world of bioinformatics, genomics, and big data. I cannot recommend it enough and feel free to reach out to me with any questions.


Year of Participation: 2015


Basil ChaballoutBasil Chaballout
Undergraduate Institution: Duke University
Major: Computer Science
Currently: Junior

“I hope you are all sufficiently mind-blown.” This is what we were told by the program director every day and is the actual goal of the biomedical informatics summer program. As a pre-med junior currently studying computer science at Duke University, I could not have asked for a better experience – to be immersed in the hub of cutting-edge research that is bridging the gap between healthcare and technology. Better yet, I had the experience of working side-by-side with some of today’s leaders in biomedical informatics. I got to work on a completely innovative project with the thrill of knowing the project was never done before. After the summer I was set on the path of biomedical informatics and went back to school with a much stronger focus. With the experience and a tangible product under my belt, several doors have already opened and I have been able to apply the skills I learned to two coding projects outside of school. All-in-all, attending this program was the best opportunity I could have had and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking a challenging, yet incredibly rewarding, summer experience. I was sufficiently mind-blown.


Ardavan FarahvashArdavan Farahvash
Undergraduate Institution: UC Davis
Major: Chemical Physics
Minor: Bioinformatics
Currently: Junior

Attending the HST summer institute in biomedical informatics was a truly transformative experience for me as a student, a (future) scientist, and perhaps even as a person. Coming into the program I was unsure of where I wanted to go and how exactly I wanted to get there. Whether to obtain a MD, a PhD, or both was a thematic question that I, as well as many of my fellow students, had weighing heavily on our minds. However, as the summer progressed the picture of who I wanted to be, the work I wanted to do, and what I wanted to accomplish began to come into focus. Through listening to and interacting with the world-class researchers and research physicians at Harvard, including my own research adviser, I was able to grasp some level of perspective on the paths and careers available to those interested in biomedical informatics. That perspective, from people who had already walked all the different paths that I was now considering embarking upon, was something I desperately needed, and I will forever be grateful to the BD2K program and its administrator Dr. Churchill for providing me with such a wonderful opportunity. I strongly recommend the program for those who are interested in research and in exploring the intersections of medicine with quantitative subjects, but are perhaps unsure of how exactly they wish to pursue those interests.


April LoFong Shun (April) Lo
Undergraduate Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Major: Biomedical Engineering, Applied Math and Statistics
Minor: Computer Science
Currently: Senior

The HST-BD2K Biomedical Informatics program gave me what was easily some of the most rewarding nine weeks of my life. I worked and learned with fifteen like-minded peers, all as eager as I am to use computer science, math, and engineering skills to improve the biomedical world. We had the unparalleled opportunity to hear, learn from, and collaborate with the world’s leaders in big data bioinformatics and genomics. We found out we are needed when there are more problems than solutions and ideas are simply waiting to be formed and executed. We became friends over ideas for improving the biomedical data space, all while performing focused research, gaining valuable skills, and not forgetting to explore the city of Boston! Just as importantly, we connected with researchers of all levels to gain mentorship and insight into academia, clinical research, and the biomedical industry.


Year of Participation: 2014


Kate LachanceKate Lachance
Undergraduate Institution: Dartmouth College ’15
Major: Biology and Computer Science modified with Math double major
Currently: Harvard Medical School Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) PhD Program G1

I had a wonderful time during my summer as a BIG summer student; I had never really been able to devote myself to research full time, and Harvard was an amazing place to be able to do so. With my work in Dr. Peter Kharchenko’s lab, I had the opportunity to learn cutting-edge techniques in processing single-cell RNA-seq data. Perhaps more importantly, though, I was exposed to the amazing research community Boston has to offer, from the graduate students and post docs working along side me in the lab, to the vast resources of Harvard, MIT, and the Broad. It is in large part because of the BIG summer program that I applied for the Harvard BIG (Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics) graduate program, which I am just starting but already loving!


Year of Participation: 2013


Naomi NkinsiNaomi Nkinsi
Undergraduate University: University of Washington, Seattle
Major: Cellular Molecular Biology and Public Health
Currently: Senior

I am a current senior at the University of Washington in Seattle and am double majoring in Cellular Molecular Biology and Public Health. I participated in the HST BIG summer program the summer after my freshman year in college and found it to be the gateway to numerous opportunities both in research and in clinical study. During my time with the BIG program, my project was focused on increasing the amount of health data retrieved from Francophone Africa through the use of data mining and curation methods, specifically focusing on information about infectious disease outbreaks in these regions. My project has contributed to a vast collection of health metrics that are currently being used to monitor events such as the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This system also allows both the general public and health organizations like the CDC to keep track of the health of some of the most at risk communities. This project served as an amazing internship experience that at the end of the summer extended into a job offer. I still currently work at HealthMap remotely from Seattle as a paid intern and have been building on my project since my summer with BIG. This research program allows students to meet and interact with those at the top of their fields and conduct independent projects that not only create new knowledge, but help build skills that can’t be cultivated in a classroom environment. Students who take part in the BIG program are uniquely challenged alongside the brightest of their fellow students through participation in talks and research presentations and build lasting relationships with other participants. I would highly recommend this program for those who yearn to be challenged intellectually and seek not just to excel in their classwork, but in a research or clinical environment as well.


Year of Participation: 2012


Jeff GeroldJeff Gerold
Undergraduate Institution: Washington University in St. Louis
Major: Biomedical Engineering and Mathematics
Currently: Harvard Medical School Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) PhD Program G3

For an undergraduate student who was passionate about science but searching for the right path among graduate school, medical school, and other career possibilities, the BIG summer program was a tailor-made experience. First, I was able to pursue bioinformatics research in transcriptional regulation under the direction of Professor Martha Bulyk. Second, I had the chance to interact with a wide range of leading scientists in the Boston community; they shared not only their expertise but also reflections on their own training and careers. I learned how to rigorously apply quantitative tools to approach basic biological questions, and I learned how the diversity and outstanding work of my peers helped make the BIG community so vibrant. The program was instrumental in my decision to join the BIG PhD program the following year, where I now study evolutionary dynamics with Professor Martin Nowak.


Alex OcampoAlex Ocampo
Undergraduate Institution: University of Michigan
Major: Statistics
Minor: Biology
Currently: PhD student at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Interim honors: City Year, Oak Ridge High School, FLA; Fulbright Award

The BIG Program was the experience that convinced me to pursue a doctorate. I had done research previously as an undergrad, but I had not decided if a career in a quantitative science or medical science was right for me. The research project I first completed was with Professor Tianxi Cai of the Biostatistics department at the Harvard School of Public Health. That summer we used advanced statistical models to mine public health information from electronic medical records. This experience both gave me insight into how statistical tools can be applied to solve public health problems and also developed my programming skills.I participated in BIG two summers, the second as a peer leader. The second summer I worked with Dr. John Brownstein and the computational epidemiology group at Boston Children’s Hospital. Again applying the statistical toolkit I had developed the previous summer, this new research experience involved using google search queries to model malaria outbreaks globally. Both these experiences in the BIG program were the perfect stepping stone for the Ph.D. in Biostatistics I am working towards today.


Year of Participation: 2011


Jenn GeYawei (Jenn) Ge
Undergraduate Institution: Brown University
Major: Applied Mathematics and Biology
Currently: MD/PhD Candidate Harvard Medical School/Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

I attended the BIG program in the summer before my junior year of college, and it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It opened my eyes to the amazing power of genomics and bioinformatic and thoroughly inspired me to continue to pursue research in this direction. More importantly, though, I was exposed for the first time to the wide variety of career paths that people take that span medicine and research.I was excited to see how these two areas could gohand in hand, where clinical problems motivate the direction of research and where breakthroughs in the lab are then brought back to the clinic. As a result, I am now pursuing an MD-PhD at Harvard Medical School in order to develop a career that involves both patient care and translational research. Through its seminars, career advising, and research mentored by the leading scientists in the field, BIG offers a truly unique opportunity to learn and find what you’re passionate about!