BHSc Alumni Spotlight

Bioinformatics

Jeff Wintersinger

Jeff Wintersinger, BHSc'14

Research Scientist, Deep Genomics

  • BHSc - Bioinformatics - University of Calgary
  • MSc. - Computer Science - University of Toronto
  • Ph.D. - Computer Science - University of Toronto 

It's been wonderful to see my cohort scatter across the world after graduating and go on to do amazing things.

Jeff Wintersinger, BHSc'14

What is your favourite BHSc memory?

I can't point to any one favourite BHSc memory because I have a whole constellation of them that emerged from the tightly knit nature of the program. Even now, eleven years after I began the BHSc, I have a small group of friends I made through the BHSc, both in classes and through summer research work, with whom I talk regularly. It's been wonderful to see my cohort scatter across the world after graduating and go on to do amazing things.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself as a student?

You will never stop feeling impostor syndrome no matter how far you progress, but by recognizing and embracing this, it need not be detrimental to your mental health. When I began the BHSc program, I felt that everyone around me was smarter than me and that I didn't belong; when I began my graduate work in Toronto, I felt that everyone around me was smarter than me and that I didn't belong; even now, as I've moved into industry over the past couple months, I've felt similar things. This is an extremely common mental health issue in academia, and in some regards, it's compounded by programs like the BHSc program where you're surrounded by smart, hard-working, and successful people. Trust that many others are feeling the same thing you are, and the fact that you were accepted to the program is proof that you can do the work and flourish. Don't let these feelings stop you from taking hard classes or from applying to scholarships and research opportunities -- you are extremely capable, and others will recognize that in you even if you sometimes struggle to see it yourself.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished my PhD and MSc in Computer Science with a focus on computational biology at the University of Toronto after seven years of grad school. Two months ago, I began a position as Research Scientist in computational biology at Deep Genomics, which is a pharmaceutical startup in Toronto working on novel drugs for a host of diseases. The BHSc bioinformatics program was incredible training for this position. My days are spent reading research papers to help design the next round of experiments that will advance our drug development programs; working alongside wet-lab scientists who are generating massive amounts of data for the company to analyze; and, of course, writing code to do ridiculously cool machine-learning things. The BHSc was invaluable for putting me on the path to this position and for instilling in me the skills necessary to succeed at it.

 

 

 

 

How did you choose your graduate program/supervisor?

I chose my graduate supervisor by talking to my undergrad research supervisor in the BHSc program, in whose lab I worked for two summers and completed my honours thesis in. He was able to advise me on the merits of different computational biology graduate programs, as well as suggest which graduate supervisors would be the most enjoyable to work for and would give me the best chance to learn how to be a good scientist. The least important factor when choosing a graduate supervisor is the nature of your specific research project -- you will find interesting questions in every research domain. Conversely, the most important factor is that your graduate supervisor respects you, treats you fairly, and will invest time and energy in training you in how to do science. The best means of determining these factors is to talk to existing graduate students in labs you're considering, or to consult with professors who recently completed their postdoctoral research at institutes you're considering. Ultimately, my BHSc research supervisor gave me a strong endorsement for the professor whose lab I chose to join for my graduate work, and even after seven years, I have no regrets about making that decision.

What are your future plans?

I plan to continue as a computational biology research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry for the foreseeable future. There are fascinating problems to solve in this domain at the intersection of biology, medicine, and computer science. Being in industry means that we have the potential to make near-term contributions to improving health, which I find extremely motivating.
 

What is the best piece of advice you have received during your educational journey?


Don't stress yourself out about planning too far ahead in the future. As you work through undergrad and continue in your career, your interests will naturally evolve and new opportunities will appear that you couldn't have anticipated. Several friends from the BHSc began the program with certainty that they would go on to medical school, only to completely lose interest in that path partway through undergrad and pursue a career in science instead. I only decided to apply to grad school six months before I finished the BHSc (although this was cutting it a wee bit close -- learn from my idiocy and allow yourself a little more time for that particular transition). Likewise, as I was approaching the end of my PhD, I only began applying for positions and decided to go to industry rather than pursue a postdoc several months before my program completion. As you progress in your career, you will always at the back of your mind be weighing different possible paths forward; but when you can foresee a hard transition point, such as the end of undergrad or grad school, you will often decide on your next steps only months before reaching that point. Trying to plan too far ahead will impose undue stress on you and may blind you to possible alternative paths that would ultimately be more fulfilling.