"In scientific research, what drives me is the opportunity to help solve the complex challenges of our future"
Claire has always been passionate about science, but it was during a discussion with a professor in Singapore that she realized she wanted to make research her career.
“I’ve always been passionate about research, particularly biomedical research, but I was initially hesitant to make a career of it. The Bachelor of Science (in Biology and Mathematics) program at McGill University familiarized me with the world of science, in part through a laboratory internship with a pharmaceutical company, while helping me cultivate an appreciation for quantitative approaches to biology. After earning my BS, I had an opportunity to work as a management consultant. This first work experience gave me the chance to think about my career plans. I later met Richie Soong, professor and entrepreneur at the head of a new biomedical start-up. That encounter put me on a new path. I joined his team for nearly a year before deciding to enroll in a Master’s program in the field.”
The Master’s program in Life Sciences was exactly what I was looking for
Claire’s international background and good references opened many doors to her when she decided to join a prestigious Master’s program and go on to pursue a PhD. Following the advice of her family and friends as well as her former professors, she looked at the programs offered by Ecole Normale Supérieure - PSL. “The Master’s program in Life Sciences was exactly what I was looking for. It combined classwork with practice in a laboratory at a school, ENS-PSL, that is renowned in France and throughout the world, working with leading scientific teams (Institut Curie). I was so excited to contribute to high-potential interdisciplinary technology transfer projects.”
Claire decided to enroll in the IMaLiS (Interdisciplinary Master in Life Sciences), a program that offers practical laboratory experience alongside its research focus.
“My application was accepted, and I even received a scholarship from the Q-Life Institut Convergence. During my laboratory internship, I was able to participate in a fascinating research project whose aim was to study living systems and predict the future of organisms within a quantitative framework.”
As a Master’s student at ENS-PSL, Claire fully appreciates the quality of the working environment:
“Research is a collective endeavor! I was pleasantly surprised by the general atmosphere of our working group. Despite our different backgrounds, all the students are motivated by a desire to share and interact. This sense of group belonging and helping one another stimulates ideas about our topics. The faculty also help foster unity within our group. Their availability and support lend meaning and value to our research concerns.”
Research is a collective endeavor!
Wanting to take part in student life for the program, Claire volunteered to be a delegate. She takes her responsibilities seriously, listening to and talking with fellow students to help continuously improve the program and the internal operations of the school. She is particularly committed to representation for international students.
“We all share common scientific interests, and more broadly, a sense of belonging to the group. The day-to-day life of researchers is something I feel very strongly about, so I wanted to participate in that actively. I’m aware of the challenges and obstacles that some international students may experience as they try to integrate. Because of my French-Taiwanese culture and because I have had so many experiences abroad, I am particularly committed to making sure they are represented.”
For her Master’s internship, supervised by Laura Cantini at the Bioinformatics laboratory under Denis Thieffry, Claire is focusing on underlying biological processes for diseases such as cancer. To achieve this, she is adopting techniques from machine learning, which requires her to interact broadly with various laboratories.
“I’m doing data science for biology. I use innovative computational tools to integrate a set of biomedical data from single-cell RNA sequencing, which can be used to analyze thousands of cells in parallel. The end goal of this approach is to characterize certain molecular mechanisms currently in development that remain unspecified. With this process, we are also helping to improve existing bioinformatics tools. The interdisciplinarity that this class of research requires offers a high heuristic potential, and I’m extremely flattered to be able to contribute to advancing these reflections.“
Today, Claire is pursuing her thesis with funding from the Fondation de la Recherche Médicale. She is advancing within Institut de Biologie ENS - PSL (Denis Thieffry’s laboratory), under the joint supervision of Laura Cantini, Denis Thieffry and Morgane Thion (member of Sonia Garel’s laboratory).
Her thesis takes an approach similar to her previous work: developing and assessing tools for integrating single-cell sequencing data to understand brain development.
“My research aims to understand brain development and immunity as well as related diseases. I am particularly interested in microglia, the ‘white blood cells’ of the brain, whose dysfunction has been linked to many neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions. Ultimately, I intend to discover biomarkers associated with microglia development, which can then be used as the foundation for developing therapeutic treatments. Right now, what I find exciting and stimulating about my day-to-day life as a researcher is the opportunity to help solve the complex, global challenges of our future.”