Faces of IICD: Jack Yang, Intern

Editor's note:

Faces of IICD is a newly created blog series to give our members an opportunity to share more about their career path and their personal story.

April 12, 2022

In a research project under the mentoring of Dr. Karol Nowicki-Osuch, Associate Research Scientist at the Irving Institute for Cancer Dynamics, Jack Yang is working on a dynamic cell classification project using single-cell RNA-sequencing data. He is currently enrolled in the MS in Data Science at Columbia University. Previously, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Tsinghua University, a master’s degree in computational finance from Carnegie Mellon University, and a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Virginia. Jack has spent over two decades working in investment banking leading financial modeling and risk management.

For me, pursuing a career in finance was more than just a desire to learn and become a competent professional in a competitive environment. My lifelong dream is to be in a continuous learning environment where I would constantly push for new challenges and look for creative solutions by cultivating my love of learning. The financial industry has evolved significantly over the last several decades and will continue to grow considerably with the impact of technological innovations. During my 20+ years of working in the financial industry, I have realized the limitation in the traditional financial mathematics approach to handling large amounts of data. I wanted to acquire the necessary knowledge from one of the world's most respected advanced data science programs. This is why I decided to take a sabbatical from my job and enroll in the MS in Data Science. I am very grateful for the opportunity to deep dive into my lifelong love of learning, once again, at Columbia University.

As I was about to start my degree in data science at Columbia University in 2021, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. During the hour before my wife entered the operating room for her cancer treatment, she and I discussed how we could contribute our time and knowledge to help other cancer patients. Since her diagnosis, my wife has already volunteered for every possible cancer research project. While she was in the operating room, I started reaching out to professors at Columbia University to see if my background could be helpful in their current cancer research projects. This is how I found out about the Irving Institute for Cancer Dynamics. Amazingly, I found a match very quickly and have since been working with Dr. Nowicki-Osuch. We work on a dynamic cell classification project using RNA-seq data. Single-cell RNA-sequencing has enabled the characterization of highly specified cell types in many tissues. An essential facet of these studies is identifying the transcriptional signatures that define a cell type or state, which requires accurate labeling of cell types in the sample. Given the sample usually contains tens of thousands of cells, we are looking for a systematic way that allows researchers to provide labels on all cells based on very few cells labeling. Furthermore, we are trying to use the supervised learning result to imply a causal structure that helps classify other RNA-sequence data.

Volunteering for this cancer research project has been the most rewarding experience. I never imagined how my educational and professional experience would add meaningful contributions to the medical field. I am near the end of my master’s degree and with my degrees in data science, mathematics, computer science, and finance, combined with the vast majority of my career in quantitative modeling, I am ready to connect the data science coursework to the real world. Besides, we live in a world where data science knowledge is essential in our daily lives. I am currently trying to find the best way to introduce data science to middle and high school students to prepare them to unlock the unlimited potential opportunity data science offers.