Ever since my school years, I found modeling the natural world to be the most exciting application of mathematics and computers. After completing a degree in computer engineering in Hungary, I was eager to dive into an area of research to continue this interest and look for a graduate program that would enable this. Among other options out there, I found NGS to have an attractive integrative research mission and a very impressive and diverse list of supervisors with several topics that seemed exciting to me. The terms of the NGS scholarship also stood out in comparison to other options in Singapore and beyond.
After moving to Singapore and around two months of settling in, I decided to pursue research in computational systems biology under the supervision of Prof. David Hsu. Computational systems biology is primarily concerned with building computational models which can explain experimental observations and predict behavior under conditions that have not been or cannot be studied experimentally. I was particularly interested scaling up models to handle the immense molecular complexity present in cell signaling, and to develop algorithms that can account for various sources of noise and variability in cells.
When starting my PhD, transitioning from a coursework mindset to a research one was difficult. It was also a challenge to work in a new area I hadn't studied before. In fact, while I picked up the methodology behind computational modeling in systems biology fairly quickly, being able to identify the novel and relevant problems to solve required a much deeper understanding of the field that I gained slowly, through the subsequent years of work. I felt that attending one of the biggest computational biology conferences in the second year of my PhD—funded from my yearly NGS conference travel allowance—was an important eye-opening and enriching experience, since it allowed me to understand much better how my work fits in the big picture. For this reason, I would encourage new students to go to relevant conferences and open themselves up to a bigger community as soon as possible.
Another defining episode during my PhD was the chance to visit Harvard Medical School for 5 months through the help of Prof. P.S. Thiagarajan (an NGS research supervisor and someone instrumental in my PhD thesis development) with NGS travel allowance provision. Working in a lab that was primarily experimental made a big difference in my understanding and appreciation for research directions that ultimately impact biology and medicine.
To me the defining characteristic of NGS was its unique structure to support interdisciplinary research. I believe I benefited from several different aspects of the NGS' PhD in this regard. In particular, I benefitted from a flexible "mix-and-match" curriculum which allowed to read modules from Science, Computing and Engineering – 3 distinct Faculties in NUS. Secondly, the collaboration across campus with Prof. Marie Clement's group and the interaction with NGS students from other departments also played an important role. Last, but not least, I could not credit NUS’ Library enough for such a rich resource centre of books and journals which really helped me to beef up my knowledge, crucial in interdisciplinary work.
Post-PhD, I secured a postdoctoral research position at the newly established Laboratory of Systems Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, a lab which combines strong experimental and computational components to better understand the effect of drugs in cells at the level of molecular networks. I believe that the graduate training I gained through NGS and from my mentors prepared me very well for this position, and for a career in this field in the near future.