Spotlight on . . . Katie de Lange, 2018 Vertex Fellow
“I’m originally from New Zealand, where I studied computer science for my undergraduate degree. I loved it, but I wasn’t sure how best to apply what I was doing to the real world. At some point I came across this idea of bioinformatics – using computer science to analyze biological data – and found I was particularly passionate about its use in the field of genetics. I went over to the UK to study at the Sanger Institute, which is associated with the University of Cambridge, and did my Ph.D. in human genetics.
As I was getting toward the end of my Ph.D., I started feeling like we were doing all this interesting work, but then just throwing it out there into the world and hoping someone would pick it up and do something useful with it. That’s why I wanted to come to the Vertex Fellows program – to see what happens next. Who’s picking up the ball, what’s getting done, where do we go next, and what’s the point? I want to feel like my work is doing something useful and helping people.”
What was your fellowship experience like?
“I loved the Fellows program! My project focused on gaining a better understanding of the cells that make up the lung, and the experience was much more productive than I anticipated. As the program is only a year, I was expecting it to be more of an opportunity to learn and see everything – after all, how much can you really get done in a year? But it turned out that you are really part of the team – after a few weeks, I felt like I was another one of the full-time team members. You get really involved in a project, getting to join in on important meetings and participating in all the experiences that are part of the Vertex culture.”
What did you hope to accomplish from the program?
“I thought the biotech industry might be where I wanted to go, but I had no real idea about what it involved, having had no previous exposure, and no opportunity to learn much about it. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to get that exposure and decide what I wanted to do. I was coming into it certainly interested in computational genomics, and Vertex was a big draw. David Altshuler is a huge name in my field, and I had also met Paul de Bakker, and I knew good things about him. But the big thing was getting to try industry.”
What’s next for you?
“I’m off to Switzerland to do research for another company. I would have loved to stay at Vertex, but unfortunately, immigration to the U.S. is a little bit of a challenge, so it wasn’t a possibility in the end. Overall, this experience gave me a better connection to why we’re doing this work – seeing the patients, seeing what we’re producing and the effect it can have on people. This feels worthwhile, and I want to keep doing it.”