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KGI’s Summer Program Inspires Incoming Student Cynthia Martinez to Pursue a Career in Genomic Data Analytics

Future Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) student Cynthia Martinez has long been interested in genetics. After attending KGI’s Clinical Genetics and Bioinformatics Summer Program (CGB), she decided to pursue a career in genomic data analytics. Since then, she has been accepted into KGI’s Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genomic Data Analytics (MSGDA) program, beginning in fall 2021.

Martinez was initially gravitating toward a career in genetic counseling. Still, after graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, she decided to explore her options in KGI’s CGB program. In this five-day program where undergraduates are immersed in various career paths for genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics, she found herself most drawn toward data analytics.

“I really liked the variant interpretation process—going through the evidence and scoring the pathogenicity of a variant using all the available tools to piece together the different parts of the puzzle to clarify the impact on the patient and how that would affect their care,” Martinez said.

“I felt like Sherlock Holmes. What caught my eye was the opportunity to share my connection to the data and knowledge with the larger scientific community.”

She appreciated how MSGDA Program Director Dr. Barbara Fortini explained the different types of databases and the bigger picture of how the testing results would impact the specific patient.

At the same time, Martinez also enjoyed learning more about genetic counseling. A typical day in the CGB program involved a mock case study of a family, followed by lively discussions centered around privacy concerns and interpreting testing results.

Martinez felt that Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling Program Director and Professor of Practice Ashley Mills did a great job facilitating discussions and keeping them focused. She also enjoyed learning about Assistant Professor of Genetics Dr. Barbara Bailus‘s research in genetics testing for rare diseases.

“I loved the discussions centered around patient advocacy and connecting the families of children with rare diseases to a community where they could support one other and empower each other by sharing resources,” Martinez said. “I remember Dr. Bailus talking about how even five years ago it was a different story and how rapidly everything is advancing, so it’s exciting to be joining the field at this time.”

The CGB program also featured discussions with current KGI students. For Martinez, hearing about the internships these students were involved with and the wealth of opportunities, connections, and real-world experience cemented her decision to apply to KGI, as she felt confident that she would secure a job in her field upon graduating.

Martinez is remaining open at this point when it comes to career goals but wants to continue developing her technical skills to pursue a job in industry, either performing lab work for a genetics testing company or developing variant interpretation products.

“When we launched the CGB program, we were hoping to inspire students to choose a career in clinical genetics by opening their minds to what is possible in human genetics and genomics today,” Fortini said. “To be able to welcome one of those students this fall to KGI to start that journey is very exciting. I look forward to seeing Cynthia in the classroom again and watching her develop the skills and knowledge she will use to follow her passion for genomics into a rewarding career.”