Visitor of the Week: Alison Parisian


Meet Alison Parisian, a graduate student in the Biomedical Sciences program at the University of California San Diego. Alison is a member of Frank Furnari's lab, which is also a part of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and returned to the Lab to train at the 2018 Bioinformatics for Cancer Genomics course. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in cancer genetics and epigenetics. My project involves developing and analyzing a stem cell-based model of a type of pediatric brain tumor called ATRT, in order to learn more about the mechanisms underlying these tumors and potentially identify novel therapeutic strategies. I am interested in cancer research because it is an important topic of research with major health implications, and I find the complexity of the underlying mechanisms interesting.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research? 
I had hoped to pursue translational research in graduate school and studying cancer at UC San Diego was perfect for this goal.

How did your scientific journey begin? 
I first became interested in science and biology as a child, growing up in the country and learning from my father who has degrees in botany and entomology. I was always interested in how living things worked and that interest stayed with me through college, where I chose to major in Biology.

Was there something specific about the Bioinformatics for Cancer Genomics course that drew you to apply?
I applied to this course because I've been trying to learn how to analyze genomics data, and this course will teach me many of the methods I hoped to learn. Bioinformatics is becoming increasingly important in Biology and I believe it is an important skill to learn. I plan to use the bioinformatics techniques I learn here in my project, as well as help with other projects in the lab.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
I feel like I can apply what I've learned in the course to analyze whole genome sequencing data myself once I return to San Diego. I've learned a lot of helpful information on which tools to apply to different types of bioinformatic analysis, as well as what sorts of analysis are possible with different types of data. Overall, the course has helped make many types of bioinformatic analyses, which had seemed incredibly difficult, more accessible.

What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work? 
I plan to apply what we learn about gene expression and pathway analysis to my own project once I return to San Diego, and will likely apply what I've learned about analyzing whole genome sequencing data to other projects later on.

How many CSHL courses have you attended?
This is my second course at CSHL. I previously attended the Brain Tumors course in 2016.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This is an excellent course in teaching introductory bioinformatics skills for cancer research on a variety of topics. I would recommend the course for those interested in learning cancer bioinformatics skills, even if they have little prior experience. A wide range of topics are covered, but each is addressed in great enough depth and with enough hands-on practical applications that participants should be able to perform the different types of analyses independently after the course.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
Interacting with the other trainees in the course, who come from a variety of different universities and backgrounds, has been a wonderful experience. In addition, the Cold Spring Harbor campus is beautiful and it was amazing witnessing a beach sunset one day and experiencing snow the next. Coming from California it's not often I get to experience snow, and it was lovely watching the snow fall over the campus. 

Alison received a scholarship from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Alison, thank you to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Alison for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.