Ziv Bar-Joseph: Marathons and computational biology

July 18, 2012   


The largest computational biology conference in the world is happening just finished in Long Beach, CA, and I had the privilege of being here to witness its 20th anniversary. Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) Is a fantastic conference, and one of the great aspects of this conference is the Overton Prize, which honors the contributions of early-career computational biologists, typically those who are within 3-5 years of their first professorship, and are typically untenured. This year, the Overton prize winner is Ziv Bar-Josephassistant professor at Carnegie-Mellon University and avid runner. 

Bar-Joseph's love of running is often mentioned in his talks, but I think it is extremely relevant to his career as a scientist. He has the dedication to run nearly every day and have a very substantial research portfolio. In short, Bar-Joseph has mastered the art of balancing life and work. 

To encourage young scientists, he analogized his success to a 50-mile run he recently finished. He showed the racecourse and a photo of himself smiling with an age-group award, saying that his smiling face doesn't tell the whole story. Just as when you see the CVs of people who win awards like the Overton, you see an intimidating list of papers, accolades, and accomplishments. But a CV is just the end result.


What happened along the way?

He then showed a photo of himself at the 20-mile mark, looking decidedly unhappy. He said, "there is struggle that you do not see when you just see the end the final results." He had lost his glasses at the beginning of the race, so he could not see the signposts he was supposed to follow. So he wandered around for five miles without knowing where he was, and then he finally hit the 20-mile mark and realized he had wandered around fruitlessly. Frustrated, but he persevered and went on to win his age category.


Perseverance, or "Stick-to-it-ive-ness" as my middle school teacher called it

His message was simple: perseverance. Maybe you have a similar experience in your past, present, or future, where you thought you were getting somewhere only to realize later on that time was wasted. But in reality, it wasn't wasted. Those extra five miles Bar-Joseph ran made him stronger for the next race, and those few months (or years) you spent mastering a technique taught you diligence and patience, skills that will serve you far better than any single technique.


More on Bar-Joseph and his fellow Overton Prize colleagues soon.


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