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Making decisions about type of degree


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I've got an odd academic past. I was a terrible student for the first 2 or so years of undergrad, nearly being kicked out. This caused me to pause and start taking half-time semesters (6 credit hours per semester). I did this for nearly 2 years, amounting about 24 credit hours, but doing well with the small workload. This left me at my final two years worth of credits for my major in chemistry. During the two slow years I began my "senior undergrad research" and really fell in love with research. Specifically in computational chemistry. I was working with multiple PIs and grad students, I was spending a large amount of time writing pipelines and methods for molecular dynamic analysis. I got to work with ML models, big data, data visualization and reporting experiment outcomes. 

I loved it. I loved it so much I wanted to be in school again and went back full time (18 credit semesters) and crushed it. I stayed working in that lab as well for the remaining 2 full time semesters because I just enjoyed the work. My grades shot up, I was a 3.5-4.0 for the remainder of lectures, my gpa went from somewhere near a 1.6 to overall a 2.8.

I got an industry job in a diagnostics lab in the middle of 2020 and quickly saw a need there for better data workflow. The entire company of 600 people, processing over 30k samples a day, is running out of excel. They have very limited ways to analyze this mass data. I applied some of my big data pipeline techniques to draw data from thousands of excel files and be able to represent different lab equipment trends, evaluation metrics etc. At the time I was a lab tech.

The companies RnD department was starting up then and they promoted me as the first person to RnD as a scientist 1. It's been a dream job. I work with 7 different labs, I work with IT, sales, new tech, the business team. I've worn dozens of hats. I've started our newest lab, the NGS lab. We purchased a sequencing instrument and I built a sequencing pipeline from scratch. I've built an AI model and housed it in a custom web app that evaluates our diagnostic results for the infectious disease lab, and it's saved the company an insane amount of hours. I've programmed robots to automate the wet lab side of the work for both the toxicology and upper respiratory labs. I've established metrics with the sales and business teams for marketing. I've created interactive data visualizations for marketing to use with clients. I've created web apps for generating extensive and customizable diagnostic reports for our pharmacogenetics department to send to patients. I've created automated workflows through excel, or custom apps, for all these departments and more.

I walked in with what I thought was a good grasp of bash/python and ended up really taking off in python, feeling as though I've mastered (but I know there's so much to learn), and then adding VBA, C /C++, and R as languages I feel strong in.

Problem is, I still want to go to grad school. I'm so lucky with this job but ever since I fell in love with research, I knew I'd want to go back to school. On top of that I know my mobility in any other company could easily be limited by my lack of advanced degree. I plan on moving, so that's a weight.

The decisions currently are to pursue a degree in either data science, bioinformatics, or go a little outside my norm to learn biology in a biochemistry track. I do really love biochemistry, I kind of miss chemistry as a whole really, but seeing the tech and advancements in what they're doing in biochem keeps that as the only "wet lab" option on the table still.

The end goal is that I'd like to create tools for biological/chemical studies. I see a niche in the lack of automation there.

Sorry for the long winded post. I think I'm stuck on choices for program type. I know my GPA is going to be a cloud on anything else, but I feel like the insane amount of experience over the last few years is something I can push more.

Is a MS or PhD in data science even a necessity if I can put my portfolio together to speak for me? Is a that sort of degree even worth while outside of working at FAANG and creating/adjusting ML models? If I have a strong background in DS/automation would you recommend focusing on the biology/chemistry so I can gain credit there and then apply what I know?

I'm not sure if I created this post in the right space, or if this content is even worth reading!


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