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Could you tell me a bit about your background?

I am in fact a loud and proud biologist! King’s College London was where I studied my undergraduate in Human Biology, and last year I graduated with an MSc in Genomic Medicine from KCL and St George’s University. I am a firm believer that biology + technology together, hand in hand, have the potential to directly change people’s lives, so that’s why I’m keen to expand my knowledge on trends in the tech space!

How did you get into tech? What made you choose it?

Having never been one for ‘wet’ laboratory work, I instead got stuck into lots of computer-based projects whilst at university. Initially most of these projects were centered around exploratory embryology (that’s looking at how organs develop, but using mice not humans!) and involved using scientific image analysis software to, for example, analyse a group of newly identified cells found in mouse hair follicles that are thought to play a role in formation of fur. Or, design a 3D model of salivary gland development (it actually grows like a tree- with more branches being added with time!) to better understand how diseases of these glands happen. I really enjoyed being able to apply computational tools to biological data.
 
But it wasn’t until my MSc in Genomic Medicine where I was introduced to actual coding – yes, with no prior knowledge of programming whatsoever, I was suddenly thrown into the strange world of functions and syntax (and errors- lots of them!). This field, known as Bioinformatics, is where I gained an insight into just how much Data are generated when studying the human genome (or- the entire genetic material that comprises you and I), and just how valuable this information is. The discovery of new drug targets for example, or the ability to potentially tailor medicine to an individual’s genes are only some of the possibilities that can be unlocked when analyzing human genetic data.
Needless to say, I loved learning about how programming can be used to gain deep insights into the genetic makeup of us, and provide clues on the causes of disease. So, one Bash MSc project and a Python bootcamp later, I now currently work at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), which helps make the world’s public biological data accessible to scientists anywhere through specialist software and services, with the ultimate aim to make discoveries that benefit society.
 
So to sum all of that up, I would say the lesson that I learned would be not to be afraid to move in whatever direction your passion tells you to – and to try new things because you never know where it will take you, nor what opportunities lie ahead! 

What personal or professional milestones would you highlight?

One of the personal achievements I am proud of is running the City of London Mile in 8 minutes – without any training whatsoever! It taught me to always give something a go, and that leaving your comfort zone often has pleasantly surprising results!

What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

Stay curious, ask questions, and don’t worry about what other people say 🙂

Do you regret not having done something today for not finding time?

Cooking – because it’s therapeutic and creative, Reading a book – because when you are engrossed in a new literary world it seems like time slows down; and spending more time with my family. They have been a great pillar of support throughout my life so far. Without their encouragement and that of my friends (and huge shoutout to my awesome MSc Project Supervisor Dr Alan Pittman, for being so generous in transferring technical knowledge, tips and great help about this exciting field of Bioinformatics with me!); I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What books and podcasts do you recommend reading and listening to and why?

‘How to be a BAWSE’ by Lilly Singh. I was introduced to this book by a friend, and although this may not be for everyone, I found it to be the perfect combination of silliness, cheesiness, but genuinely inspirational and motivational advice.
I really enjoy listening to the podcast: The Inquiry, by the BBC World Service. It covers fascinating questions about current affairs, but frames it like a detective case – with expert ‘witnesses’ providing both sides of the argument. It is bitesized (~25 mins each) but well put together, and the information is delivered in an easily digestible way.

Who is your role model?

Our very own Kamila Hankiewicz – and every one of the fantastic volunteers of our team! I am inspired by everyone’s dedication and commitment to GiT, with Kamila having a special type of relentless enthusiasm and spark that seems like it will never go out! Every one of our volunteers are genuinely amazing ladies, and I am grateful to be a part of such a great community and cause.


How did you get into Girls in Tech and what made you do that?

I heard about Girls in Tech by signing up to the London Tech Week newsletter in 2019; seeing an advert for GiT’s event: “The Intersection between Tech and Benevolence”. I went together with a friend to this fascinating panel discussion about current technologies and their widespread impact on society, through the lenses of fintech, healthcare and event management. I was keen to learn more about technology and saw the strong and confident female organisers open the event, so I just had one thought: how can I get involved?
zahra waheed

After so many years of being in a STEM field, what do you think about diversity and inclusion in sector?

Although I am at the very start of my career, I think my experience on the whole has thankfully been positive – I have seen a growth in females studying STEM subjects and the company I currently work for actively encourage applications from females, who are from all backgrounds and beliefs. However this is just the beginning – I know this is not the case everywhere and as all of my team members will agree, we still have much more to do to provide women with equal opportunities and a more inclusive work environment.


What advice would you give to a person who wants to get into tech?

Be like a sponge and go out hunting for knowledge! You never know, one small word, company, idea that a particular speaker mentions at a tech event might resonate with you, and lead you down a new path towards technologies or even a career specialism you’ve never even heard of!
Not only that but network network network – join a community of like minded people (such as the lovely GiT team we have here 🙂 and speak to as many people as you can. Exchange business cards (or just take them, if you are right at the beginning of your career like me!  😉 , LinkedIn details, anything and everything, and ask them about their routes into technology. Genuine interest goes a long way, and you never know who these people can put you in contact with.