Inspired By Intellect

Dan Hickey with KFC background

Dan Hickey  I  Class of 2024  I  Biological Data Science I Computational Biology

Exploring The Unknown

My dream is to become a college professor. I'd like a job where I can inspire and motivate future generations of students while continuing to explore my own intellectual curiosities. My favorite part of college is the emphasis many of my professors put on exploring the unknown - it's often that a student will ask a question in one of my classes and the professor's answer will be "we don't know the answer to that right now, but here's how you could do an experiment to find that out," or a professor's lecture will include the cutting edge of scientific research on a topic, and they'll tell us what could be done to build off of that research. It's empowering to know that I'm learning at a level where I'm so close to expanding the boundary of the world's collective knowledge.

Finding Solutions Through Science

My initial decision to major in Biological Data Sciences was fairly simple - the classes I enjoyed most in high school were Biology and Statistics, so a major that combined the two seemed like where I belonged. It wasn't until after I started taking classes in the major that I realized how powerful and exciting data science is as a field. In the digital age, there are so many different forms of data being produced in vast quantities. Data scientists explore how to work with those data to answer abroad array of research questions and solve some of the world’s biggest problems, from how to treat cancer to how to create more effective automatic translation tools. What excites me the most about being a future data scientist is the idea that I could be at the center of the various disciplines that data science has impacted.

A Community That Comes Together

My first experience with OSU's college of Agricultural Sciences came before I applied to OSU - as part of the Saturday Academy's Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering program, I was a summer intern at the Food Innovation Center in Portland, OR. I worked on a research project investigating the effects of laser perforation on the freeze-drying process of blueberries. I would spend my time there operating a laser to burn a bunch of holes in frozen blueberries, freeze-dry them, and compare their size and moisture level to freeze-dried blueberries that weren't laser perforated. The goal of the project was to introduce a step in the freeze-drying process that would make it cheaper as a whole, making freeze-dried blueberries, which are more nutritious than blueberries dehydrated via conventional methods, more affordable to consumers. This was my first experience with scientific research, and my favorite part of it was knowing that the work I was doing was contributing to society positively. I later presented my work at an international conference, and I got my first taste of one of the other things I love about academic research - the way the scientific community comes together to share and appreciate their work.

The Search For Solutions Continues

Currently, my academic advisor, Dr. Jeff Chang, is the director of a summer research program focused on working with big data in agriculture. I participated in the program last summer after he encouraged me to apply. I joined Dr. John Fowler's lab as part of this program, and I am still working with him this academic year. Under his guidance, I am researching the role miRNAs play in maize pollen development. I found the program to be extremely valuable - it solidified my research in computational research, as I realized I like the problem-solving elements of programming and working with numbers. This research is also more complex than my previous research experience, and I like the fact that I was able to spend most of my summer thinking deeply about a specific topic. Hopefully, this project will lead to my first publication as well. Through my time spent on this research and the eventual submission of this work to an academic journal, I feel I will be a lot more prepared for graduate school than if I hadn't participated in the summer research program.

The Era Of The Internet

I am what you would call a child of the internet- I've had access to it for practically my whole life, and some of my most formative years included doing school assignments, reading news, and communicating with others using the internet. Many college students today are in a similar demographic. Because I haven't actively seen a world without the internet, it wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic hit that I really started to reflect on the effects of replacing in-person interactions with online ones.Seemingly overnight, we moved from a world where some face-to-face interactions were essential in most people's lives to one where it was perfectly acceptable for one to get along with their day without leaving their couch. In one way, it's amazing that the internet provides us with the opportunity to connect with people we can't see in person and makes some tasks easier to perform. However, I realized there are fundamental differences between communicating online and in person. I think some problems, such as online harassment, political polarization, extremism, and misinformation, are caused in part by some of these differences. Hopefully, in future research, I can further explore how people communicate online and how we can work towards making online spaces more safe and respectful.

Pursue Passion Through Perspectives

If you're having trouble figuring out what you want to do after college or what to major in, there are plenty of advisors and professors at the school that can help you figure out what you're passionate about and interested in. It's possible that your passion is something you don't even know exists yet. If you have conversations with as many people as you can about what you do and don't enjoy, then you'll likely find yourself closer to discovering that passion. Remember that some of the people you talk to have probably been in similar positions to you.

A Future Of Intellectual Freedom

In five years, I see myself in graduate school, pursuing a Ph.D. in
Computer Science, Information Science, or Data Science.  My main focus will most likely be data science research that intersects with the social sciences, but I'm hoping I can keep a healthy dose of genomics in my research career as well. The Biological Data Sciences major positions me well to be such an interdisciplinary scholar later in life. I'm given a lot of flexibility in terms of the Computer Science and Biology courses I can take, so I can explore whatever I'm curious about with relative freedom.