Ma accepts faculty appointment at Carnegie Mellon University

5/19/2016

Pittsburgh, Pa. – Jian Ma, a 2006 doctoral graduate of Penn State’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, has joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University. Ma is an associate professor of computational biology in the university’s School of Computer Science.

Ma’s interest in computational biology began in 2001, when the working draft of the Human Genome Project was published. He was working on his master’s degree in computer science at Fudan University in Shanghai, China at the time, and began looking to further his education in the United States, with a new focus.

“When I was applying to Ph.D. programs, I was specifically looking for computer science professors who were working on developing algorithms and software tools for genomics research,” Ma said. “I got extremely interested in Webb Miller's work because he developed widely-used algorithms and tools that had great impact in the field of genomics.”

Ma came to Penn State in 2003 and worked in the lab with Miller, emeritus professor of biology and computer science and engineering.

“One thing that is quite special at Penn State is the culture of interdisciplinary research, particularly in the area of genomics and bioinformatics,” he said. “I learned from Webb how to communicate with experimental biologists and how to make sure that your work is not only computationally interesting but also biologically significant.”

Ma credits several members of the CSE faculty for helping him build his career in computational biology, but is most thankful to Miller, whom he says trained him from a computer science student who knew almost nothing about computational genomics to become an independent scientist who can ask important questions and then pursue them with confidence and enthusiasm. He says that when he was asked to join the CMU faculty in 2015, he was delighted.

“Although my research so far has been primarily on developing algorithms on the basic science side for understanding the organization and function of the human genome, I have always been interested in translating such knowledge to ultimately improve human health,” he said. “CMU School of Computer Science has tremendous strength in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which I think would be critical for data-driven biomedical research in the years to come. This is an outstanding intellectual environment to do method development in computational biology. In addition, there is easy access to University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC hospital for collaborations.”

 

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“One thing that is quite special at Penn State is the culture of interdisciplinary research, particularly in the area of genomics and bioinformatics,” he said. “I learned from Webb how to communicate with experimental biologists and how to make sure that your work is not only computationally interesting but also biologically significant.”

 
 

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