On Monday, my daily life, my career path, and my work-related goals will change substantially. You see, Friday was my last day working at an exceptional start-up here in San Diego. (I love you guys. I will miss you all!) (Parenthetical, part 2: anyone software engineers out there want to work at a fabulous, fast-moving financial data and analytics start-up? They’re hiring!) I have spent a great year and a half there, but I have decided I must now turn my eyes to other pursuits.
To be more specific, for the better part of this last year, I have been learning more and more about diabetes. After fifteen years of doing my best to ignore it, I have come to recognize that, unlike obnoxious children, it doesn’t just go away if you don’t pay attention to it, and it certainly doesn’t leave you alone. So I have been reading, learning, trying to understand this disease that affects my daily experience so much.
And here’s what I have learned, in a nutshell: I need to understand this body. This black box, this mysterious series of operations with glucose-level outputs– it is not enough for me anymore just to let it be, or even just to keep going forever, titrating insulin, measuring intake and researching new devices and hormones. Worrying about ups and downs. Throwing inputs at my body and waiting to see what it spits out on the other side.
And I get it– they’re working on a cure. For fifteen years, it’s been just around the corner. And every ten years or so we seem to hit another boom in the cure cycle– we’re almost there! I did it in a mouse! I swear.
But my suspension of disbelief can only span so many years, and I’m over it. No one will cure this for me.
So, I’ve decided to do it myself.
OK, not really, not literally– but what I mean is: I spend a large proportion of my time thinking about treating this disease– How many carbs is that? How much insulin have I taken already, and am I going up or down? What is the likelihood that we’ll find parking close versus having to walk from several blocks away? Is my sensor coming out?– maybe I should start putting some thought toward actually understanding it, how it functions in my body, and how we can cure it.
Not just idle thought; not just arbitrary, when-I-have-spare-time thought. I am a software engineer, and I’m reasonably intelligent, if I may say so myself. And I see a renaissance in drug discovery and development coming, made possible by the molecular insight and predictive power of computational biology— so that’s where I want to be: pushing the edge of science toward a cure for type 1 diabetes.
Because I know enough to know that very, very few scientific discoveries come from single, aha moments of novel inspiration, I do not view this as a binary goal (“Cure diabetes or bust!”), but rather a progression. I am an able and willing worker, and so I can only complain so long about other people not solving my problems before I have to turn the question inward. I believe the cure will come– humans have done more impressive things than cure diabetes!– and I have read about some wonderful research all over the world that continues to move us closer to this end. I want to be there, and to contribute in the most meaningful way I can to the process.
So what does this all look like in practice?
Step 1: Learn. Understand. Trace the input into my body on its route from its origin to its end, including all the molecular pathways and the folding proteins and the microbial influences along the way. And find the points of inflection, the points vulnerable to change and manipulation.
Hence my first move: on Monday, I will start as a computational biologist at a lab at UCSD. I met some great people doing interesting work around innate immunology and metabolomics, and they said they had room for another bioinformaticist to help analyze all the high-throughput sequencing data that the lab was producing. Hey, I can do that. Or rather, I can learn how to do that– I know the computational part; I may need a bit of a crash course on the biological part. So on Monday I hit the ground running (God help me), and at the end of September I will begin taking classes at UCSD simultaneously. I missed the enrollment deadline for this fall, but I will apply for next fall with transferring credits for the Bioinformatics and Systems Biology PhD program.
Come again? PhD program? Eh? Yes– I am going back to school. That’s unexpected, to some degree. It’s been a while since I’ve had to go to classes, take notes… be a student. But, what’s more: six years. Minimum. Woah. That puts the end date into my thirties. I’ve never had an end date in my thirties before.
This is a big change for me, personally, both in terms of goals and lifestyle. This means I am working with graduate student pay (eek!), and I’m working for the first time in about five years separately from my husband. This means I work in a lab– with test tubes and centrifuges and everything!– and I work in academia, where the rules are different than in industry (or so I’m told). And this means biological pathways and therapies are now the top idea in my head.
Needless to say, I’m a little bit nervous, and a lot excited.
And step 2? Well, I’ll let you know when I figure it out. In the meantime, wish me luck!