Featured Student: Julia Somers

Featured Students


Hometown: Healdsburg, California

Course of Study: Biology Major

Main Interests I’ve always loved studying biodiversity, which is what drew me to be a biology major. I came to LC  thinking that I was going to focus on ecology and environmental science. I never imagined that my favorite subjects would turn out to be genetics, evolution, and molecular biology, nor that I would enjoy studying those things using bioinformatics! I am also a part of the Natural History Club, where I work on our social media and curate the mammal collection.

What is something that makes your computational experience at LC unique?

Most of my computational experience at LC has been through bioinformatics. I first picked up an interest in computer science while taking Phylogenetics, a field that utilizes a lot of bioinformatics software and python scripting to manipulate DNA sequence datasets into evolutionary trees. I was lucky enough to be able to apply my phylogenetics background to my venom biology project while studying abroad in Australia. The D.I. team helped our class to access BLT all the way from Brisbane! Using BLT was such a treat, and I was able to work with huge proteomic and transcriptomic datasets to do analyses that would have taken forever on my little Macbook.   

What project or experience (in computing) are you most proud of?

I am most proud of solving the ‘needle in a haystack’ problem on the Rosalind website (http://rosalind.info/problems/lcsm/ ).  The needle in the haystack involved searching through a huge FASTA file of DNA sequences, and finding the longest conserved motif amongst them. It took me three weeks (and TONS of help from Ben and Jeremy) but we finally got it working! When I started out at the beginning of the semester I couldn’t have imagined getting through a problem that complicated, and it was exciting to see how far I had come.

How has computing/computer science changed the way you think/solve problems?

I  think that I am much more methodical about problem solving. A lot of  the bioinformatics problems that I’ve worked on had a lot of moving parts, and computer science helps me to keep the big picture in mind while working through the fine details of a problem.

What’s some advice you have for other computationally minded students (especially in biology)?

Be brave and give it a try! Computer science isn’t my major (or even my minor!), but I have always felt really welcomed and supported the CS community at LC. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to pick up the language, and it’s helped me immensely in my upper level bio courses and my post-grad job search. Competency with computation is a really desirable skill, especially if you want to do genomics or proteomics, and it can also be really fun! The Rosalind website is a great way for biology students to get started with programming, because it teaches you how to use python to solve bio-related problems.  

What’s your favorite programming language?

Definitely Python. Last semester, Ben and Jeremy in the D.I. office mentored me through learning python, and although it was a steep learning curve, I really appreciated how intuitive python was for solving bioinformatics problems.

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