In science we fail so we can succeed – here's my take as a Biomedical Eng. PhD student, data science hobbyist and Elpha Community ManagerFeatured
What’s your name and your current role? If you’re a student, what are you studying?Andrea Mazzocchi, Biomedical Engineering PhD Candidate at Wake Forest University Where’s the place of your origin?Erie, Pennsylvania (the northwest point of PA, wedged between Cleveland, OH and Buffalo, NY)How many years have you been in tech?Eight - including my time studying engineering as an undergrad and working at tech internships at the same time. What’s something that you’ve done that you’re proud of?I recently published a review article highlighting some big topics in tissue engineering and biomaterials. The review was published in a top tier journal and it was the cover story for the issue. This accomplishment validated my knowledge and offered me some confidence as I was approaching important milestones in my PhD candidacy. What’s your “aha” moment in deciding what do you want to do professionally?I’ve had a few “aha” moments that have caused me to pivot in my career. I love biomedical engineering, so deciding that going to graduate school to “dig deep” felt satisfying and I’m so grateful for that decision. My latest “aha” moment was when I realized how much of the data I’m collecting in tissue engineering and cancer research is going unanalyzed. This has caused me to begin learning to code and studying machine learning to study my own and other data sets with a cancer biologist perspective.What’s your definition of success in life or in your career?My definition of success is going to bed every night excited to wake up in the morning. When my life is well balanced with wellness, work, side projects, and creative ventures, I find myself going to bed so I can wake up the next morning. I’m not necessarily succeeding at each of these elements everyday or executing flawlessly, but pursuing them in combination everyday leaves me always wanting more.What’s something that you’re working on to improve about yourself?I’m trying to meditate and become more present in my everyday life. I find that I am always moving and acting to move forward in whatever I’m doing, but I’m not taking enough time to appreciate the process and fully acknowledge the present. I’ve attended yoga classes a few times this year and trying to give myself 5 minutes of mindful breathing each day to reconnect with myself.I’ve also been naming and acknowledging my emotions. I’ve found that by doing so, I’m able to more logically evaluate situations and appreciate why I’m feeling the way I am. When things get tough, I recognize that I can respond in an emotional manner which can make things worse, so naming/appreciating/logically evaluating can make a big difference!Tell us about someone who has inspired you a great deal. Who was it and how did they inspire you?I’m inspired by so many women around me but especially appreciate network I have created around me in graduate school. Fellow women within my program have been extremely supportive and encouraging in the most challenging moments of my scientific career. They are each outside of my field of research but are able to support me and have built a positive community for us to share our success. Each of the women within this group works extremely hard and with so much passion and dedication to their own work that their example itself is inspiring when things feel tough or my own energy is low. How do you celebrate your wins?To celebrate big wins I like to take the evening to watch a movie. I don’t watch movies often and don’t follow new releases, I also don’t watch TV or follow any shows. After a taste of success, it feels indulgent to make popcorn, search 30 minutes for a movie I’d like and then watch it without any other concerns. I don’t prevent myself from watching movies outside of having a success, but they have become my go to when something big happens. For small wins - an experiment going well, encouragement from peers, completing work ahead of schedule - I try to use my positive energy as fuel to dive into more tasks that I’ve been excited to start but haven’t felt like I was ready.What do you do when you aren't working or studying?When I’m not conducting research I enjoy yoga, climbing, stand-up paddle boarding, golf, snowboarding, and teaching myself ukulele and Spanish. I also try to stay enrolled in coursera classes for continued education and am currently pursuing some data science based side projects. Outreach is also very important to me and I’ve been leading a Girls Who Code group for the past year and am currently developing a Coding for Adults resources program to help adults develop skills and obtain tech jobs. I haven’t mastered relaxing just yet, and even in my free time am devoted to the phrase, “I’ll stop tomorrow.” What is one piece of advice that you’d share with the Elpha community?Failure is never failure and we should exchange the word nervous with excited. (Yes, these are two pieces of advice, but I couldn’t pick just one!)Both of these pieces of advice have come to me through experience and I stand by them whole-heartedly. In research, we fail daily, which probably sounds depressing. It can be when you see failure as failure, and not a learning experience. As a researcher, you can’t stop pursuing a project after failing. You have to iterate and solve the problem, or change your hypothesis - failure is never failure. A running joke I have with my colleagues is that I never expect something to go well the first time - we fail so we can succeed. I believe this attitude has carried me far and will remain an asset as my aspirations grow. In exchanging the word nervous with excited - just do it. It’s amazing how our brains can respond to change in dialogue. I believe I read this in a book by Mel Robbins and have since removed nervous from my vocabulary. This word exchange is life changing, and in a bigger way has played a role in changing how I talk to myself and identify how I am feeling so I can begin to make logical, well informed decisions separate of how I am emotionally responding.Andrea is currently pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering at Wake Forest University where her work focuses on cancer precision medicine, tissue engineering, biomaterials, and image analysis. She received her BS in biomedical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology and has previously worked at GE Transportation, GE Healthcare and Johnson & Johnson. Achievements while in graduate school include being awarded two fellowships, eight publications, and numerous oral and poster presentations yielding awards. Her personal website is andreamazzocchi.com.
Yes! You’re awesome. 🤗Also, I am excited about everything all the time! This gives me the energy and will to go on... even when I sometimes don’t want to.Finally, I recommend that the next movie you watch be Last Holiday ft. Queen Latifah and LL Cool J - Rotten Tomatoes be damned, this movie changed 17 yo Quinn’s life and is actually something I rewatch regularly to remind myself: #YOLO.
> "My latest “aha” moment was when I realized how much of the data I’m collecting in tissue engineering and cancer research is going unanalyzed. This has caused me to begin learning to code and studying machine learning to study my own and other data sets with a cancer biologist perspective."What's the most counterintuitive thing you've encountered when analyzing all this tissue engineering and cancer research data that was previously under the radar?Also, the path you've described so far in your bio makes me think of what would happen if I were to fuse myself (software engineer) with one of my friends, who is currently studying Translational Medicine at UCSF trying to see where in modern medical practice doctors can apply her research on regenerative tissues (not sure if this is the right term) to the treatment of cancer patients. How can someone without a biology background but with programming experience support my friend in her frield?
Hi! You have great questions and I’m so excited to discuss more with you! It’s hard to say what is counterintuitive as my intuition has changed so much during my time as a PhD. I think overall for myself and many other researchers, we’re looking at what’s going on around the cells, known as the extracellular matrix and/or microenvironment. This area has always been interesting but underrated until recently, there is now data showing these regions may be great for improved diagnostics and treatment. What’s important is - it’s no longer believed that the cancer cells and their genetic mutations tell the whole story. I’m sure your friend is doing awesome research as I’ve seen/read quite a bit on work done at UCSF and their translational med program is so unique and perfect for the growing biomed field. In supporting a friend I think you can first talk to them about what kinds of data they are collecting. I think most people would be amazed to learn how much is done by hand in biomedical research, from counting cells in an image, to pulling specific time point values out of a large data set. We are often trying to automate these things but it can be a lot on top of other research commitments. There are already lots of softwares available but are $$ and not found in the average lab. So see if you can play an advanced role in data analysis and from there ask what they wish they could learn from the data but aren’t sure how to. As researchers we have a lot of hunches but done know where to start.I’d be happy to talk more, feel free to DM me!