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Brains, Bibles, and Bioinformatics

In the 1st book of Corinthians, Paul relates the body of Christ to a physical human body. He talks about different people being different body parts: a foot, a hand, an eye, etc. If I were a part of the human body, I would be the neural network between the posterior parietal cortex, ventrotemporal occipital cortex, and the prefrontal cortex. A study by scientists at Stanford showed that the connections between these 3 parts of the brain decide whether we are more inclined to mathematical prowess or not. My neural connections must be like vibranium-level strong because math runs in my veins!


When I started school I skipped a grade, but I skipped a second grade in math. #overachiever It just came naturally to me and it just made sense. As the great philosopher Robert Van Winkle once said, “If there was a problem, yo I’ll solve it.” Seriously, any problem, I’d even do math/logic games in my free time. My whole family has this awesome talent, and we weren’t just good at math, we celebrated it. When my mom took a break from working a corporate job, she took her free time and used it to tutor math at my elementary school. She wanted to share this great knowledge she had and help others to be their very best at it. Another thing we celebrated in our household was helping others. Remember this because these both influenced my future career path.


In high school I really wrestled with “what do I want to be when I grow up”. I thought very logically about it. I love a good list, so I made a few.


What am I good at:

  • Math, Problem Solving, Volleyball, Singing, Teaching… probably some other things.

What did I want out of my job:

  • I really wanted my life to impact others; I wanted to help people


Alright, now what jobs work those two categories together? First of all, I was not good enough at singing or volleyball to make a profession out of it, but as a high schooler I definitely wanted to list them anyway. Second, I had no idea how my God given talent for math was going to help anyone, unless I was a teacher. So I thought about being a teacher… then I quickly realized I didn’t have the patience. I would have probably slapped the obnoxious students and I wouldn’t have been an employed teacher for very long. So what other job could I do that helped people but heavily involved math? Hmmm, I really didn’t know. I didn’t see how being a mathematician could help anyone. I also knew God had given me this amazing gift and I didn’t want to just throw it away. I agonized trying to find something in the middle.


The first idea I came to was to do something with science. It had all of the same problem solving skills as math, but it had so many different types of applications. I could be a doctor or a cancer-drug developer or a geophysicist or a forensic scientist or a dentist. (Side note: When I was really young I wanted to be a dentist so I could be DDS DDS, BUT then I learned of the icky things dentists had to deal with and immediately changed my mind.) The list of potential science jobs is endless. But I had this nagging feeling that I wanted to find a scientific job that had more math in it. All sciences have some element of math, but it wasn’t enough for me.


Enter my uncle Pat. We all need an uncle Pat in our lives. He is quirky and silly and very passionate about math and math education. He has received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching as a high school teacher in a Kansas City suburb. Since he loves math, he had his hand in lots of different things and he knew all about up and coming fields that included math.


So one day he was talking to me, knowing I was struggling in figuring out what to study in college, and asked me if I had heard of bioinformatics. I had not. It is a general term for any number of fields that use math and computers to solve biological problems. I was intrigued and looked into it and got so pumped! This was everything I had been looking for! I knew I wanted to do this, and I told all the universities I applied to that this is what I wanted to do. I actually got rejected from Georgetown because I was too sure of what I wanted to do. They wanted students that were willing to explore other areas. Whoops. Oh well.


That talk with Pat was in 2007. I’ve now been using math, science, and computers to study our natural world for the past 10 years, ever since I got an undergraduate research opportunity my freshman year of college.


But I come back to the passage from Corinthians. The analogy can be applied so much deeper than Paul originally intended. We each have our unique talents. We each have our unique purpose, but every one of those unique purposes is complex. I was not just called to be a scientist. I was called to use math, biology, and computers to perform my research. Just like the neural network, I needed all 3 pieces for it all to work smoothly and for me to fulfill my purpose. The Bible passage talks about being a hand or a foot or an eye, but do you know how many bones are in a single foot, all the blood vessels and tendons and muscles? Being a foot is complex, just like any other part of the body.


I feel like the world gives us very clear-cut boxes and even if you have two different skills, you are told to keep them separate. I didn’t know I could bring those gifts together. I thought I had to choose, but some of the best discoveries and inventions come from mixing and matching and using what we have. We call them God-given talents, but do we actually stop and ask how God wants us to use them? He made you unique; He made you with specific strengths. How can you best use all of them?