In celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, The Pirbright Institute's Yasaman Kalantar-Motamedi tells us about her passion for data science and its impact on biology:
8 October 2019 is the day that we remember the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, who happens to be a woman. Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration of achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). As a computer scientist and a woman, I would like to congratulate on this day all the women in science within the Institute and beyond.
I would also like to write a bit about the importance of computer science and how it can facilitate our understanding of the data generated over years in order to infer meaningful information. Computer science has a broad range of applications in all areas of science and technology. My passion is data science and especially its application to biology. I had the chance to do a PhD at the University of Cambridge in this area and worked closely with well-known institutes such as National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Cancer Research UK, as well as with a childhood cancer hospital and a biotech institute. During this time, I used computational techniques to address biological problems, with particular application to drug discovery. During these projects, I experienced how data science can help you to discover novel purposes for medicines that are not commonly used for the purpose of treating the diseases I investigated (e.g. cancer and malaria).
I also had the chance to meet and closely collaborate with people from different pharmaceutical companies, and I realised that there is a true potential in what we can learn from data, for instance to prioritise experiments that are well-worth performing. Such approaches are being used extensively in drug development; they can contribute towards significantly reducing costs and getting to better outcomes more quickly. I believe computer science, and particularly data science, can have a significant contribution to the way we manage viral diseases and discover novel vaccines. There is always a smarter way to do things if you start to computationally learn from data that you generate over time.
Today we should also celebrate the contribution of women to science. It is good to name famous female Nobel Prize winners such as Marie Curie and her daughter Irène Curie. There has been much debate about whether they should be regarded as successful women in science or just successful scientists. My personal opinion is that it is twice as hard to be both a woman and a scientist, particularly if you are a mother like me, unless you have supportive partners behind you. Today, women’s contribution to science is becoming more and more recognised, and I think this is definitely worth celebrating.
In recent years in the UK, there has been significant progress towards embracing gender equality and diversity, particularly in academic and research positions. I hope we will continue to have such progress and witness a day when science has no boundaries. Science belongs to women and men equally. Science is inclusive of people with diverse races, beliefs and expertise. Hopefully all of us hand in hand will push our science forward and make valuable breakthroughs that we can all be equally proud of.
Written by Yasaman Kalantar-Motamedi