SRP: Opening Doors to Transformative Research

SRP: Opening Doors to Transformative Research

Dr. Sally Ellingson has a long history with Sustainable Horizons Institute’s Dr. Mary Ann Leung, having first started as a participant in the Broader Engagement (BE) program at the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis (SC) conferences from 2010-2013, when she was in graduate school in a joint Ph.D. program in Genome Science and Technology at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In 2013, Dr. Leung invited participants to apply to serve on the Committee for Broader Engagement. Sally joined the BE committee in 2014 and has assisted the BE program (now at the SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering or CSE) every year since. “SC and BE opened my network in profound ways,” says Sally. “I have been able to work at multiple labs and build collaborations that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

As a result of her BE experiences, she was familiar with SHI’s Sustainable Research Pathways (SRP) program, which was designed to connect scientists from underrepresented groups with scientists at Berkeley Lab to encourage the formation of ongoing research collaborations.

During Sally’s first year in SRP, she was a new Assistant Professor in the Division of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Kentucky. She put out a broad call via email to several different departments to see which students might be interested in joining her. Between her summers in SRP, she met Derek Jones, who was working on his master’s in computer science. He already had a teaching assistantship, so she hired him for a few hours a week to start engaging in research. “I didn’t want him to lose the opportunity,” says Sally. “He was a perfect fit.”  Derek was able to join her the next summer at Berkeley Lab for his first internship.

At Berkeley Lab, Sally and Derek were in the lab of Dr. Bert de Jong (who leads the Computational Chemistry, Materials, and Climate Group), working on machine learning to predict drug binding. These events set Derek up to receive the Lyman T. Johnson Fellowship, aimed to increase the diversity of graduate researchers at the University of Kentucky, allowing the two to continue working together until the completion of Derek’s thesis. The experiences were ultimately transformative for Derek as he discovered a career path as a scientist.

“The SRP experience accelerated my development by making it possible for me to learn from top experts at Berkeley Lab,” says Derek. “My experience with the supercomputing resources at Berkeley Lab subsequently helped to accelerate work for my master’s thesis that involved distributed training of deep learning models to predict drug properties.”

After her first year with SRP, Sally had the opportunity to present a peer-reviewed paper on their collaboration at the International Conference on Computational Sciences in Switzerland. Later, her work with Derek was published at the AMIA Informatics meeting, where Derek presented.

In addition, while at Berkeley Lab, Sally was invited to give a talk at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Separately, Derek had applied to the internship program at Livermore, and in a moment of perfect timing, they were both invited to continue their work at Livermore Lab with a group doing similar research.Now Derek has a full-time position at Livermore as a ChemBio Data Scientist and has started his Ph.D. in Computer Science at University of California, San Diego. “I was aware of Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee due to its proximity to my hometown, but until Sally approached me, I knew very little regarding the full scope of Department of Energy (DOE) National Labs and their roles in advancing scientific research with the help of high-performance computing. After I did some research, I realized what an amazing opportunity the SRP program was,” says Derek. “My experience at the Labs has been great. The teams I work with are inclusive, willing to collaborate, and supportive of my Ph.D. ambitions. I am immensely grateful.”

Sally and Derek after presenting at a SIAM CSE BE mini symposium, “Advances in Computational Drug Discovery”. Pictured here from left, Jonathan Allen (LLNL), Julie Mitchell (ORNL), Sally and Derek.