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PRIMES: Peijin Zhang's Story


My research at PRIMES has definitely been one of the most difficult challenges I've faced throughout high school, but at the same time, one of the most rewarding. Despite having a background in competition style math and computer programming through various contests like the AIME and USACO programs, I found academic research in the same fields to be drastically different and require a totally disparate skillset. In contrast to the time trialed, fast paced competitions common to high school academics, the research I was exposed to at PRIMES was open ended and required much more thought to be put into them. As such, the research I performed while at PRIMES was refreshingly different and much more fulfilling when completed.

I remember my first communication with my mentors after being accepted to PRIMES. I was given a plethora of background reading, ranging from prominent published papers to in-lab manuscripts. One of these documents was a dense technical manuscript about one of the signature methods used in my mentor's lab, Bayesian network learning. The document spanned nearly fifty pages of technical information on the generation and application of such networks, and I realized that by the time I was on page ten, I forgotten half of what I read and hadn't had the slightest clue as to what the probabilistic function I just spent the last ten minutes reading about did. My first few weeks starting in the PRIMES program were definitely some of the most difficult and overwhelming experiences I've had, but the challenge had piqued my interest, and I was inspired to succeed.

Over the next nine months, with much help from my mentors and other members of the lab, I was able to shakily dive into the forefront of bioinformatics research, or the application of computer algorithms on large amounts of biological data such as gene expression studies or protein sequencing. As I increased my knowledgebase through reading vast amounts of published papers and personal help from my mentors, I gradually became more comfortable and at home with research. In the span of nine months, I've performed analysis on a cohort of critical-care ICU patients for the prediction of hospital acquired illnesses, developed a program that will soon be on the forefront of clinical genomics, and identified several promising target regions for new drugs to counter MDR-TB. In addition, I've also met and worked with several amazing students along the way, ranging from those younger than myself to doctoral candidates.

Overall, I found my research in the PRIMES program to be very rewarding. Not only was I exposed to the forefront of bioinformatics research, I also learned the various methods prominent in the field and performed research to make my own mark. I would confidently say that PRIMES has been one of my most gratifying experiences of high school, and it has truly changed how I view academia as a whole. As such, I would strongly recommend PRIMES to any other student with an interest in science or mathematics and curiosity to explore beyond their high school curriculums.

Peijin Zhang worked on the project Identifying Clostridium difficile in the ICU using Bayesian networks under the mentorship of Dr. Gil Alterovitz and Dr. Jeremy Warner.

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