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Katy Pham researches Drug Addiction Recovery in Japan with PRIME

Katy Pham (class of 2016) , a Human Bio Major and Global Health Minor is a third year Marshall student who loves to travel, meet new people and discover new things. She was was born & raised in France, then moved to California before her freshman year in high school. Katy is studying to become a doctor and to ultimately work for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders). In her free time she loves to hike, read or do heated yoga. Katy completed her field experience with PRIME at the NARA Institute of Science and Technology located in Japan.

In Katy’s words she describes her field experience:

"I worked with Dr. Jason Haga and Dr. Kohei Ichikawa on a research project with a main goal of improving the rates of drug discovery. A critical obstacle to the speed of drug discovery is the screening process. The screening process is not only really costly, but it is also really lengthy. In fact, researchers have to screen library of a million of compounds. To resolve this issue, computer scientists have come up with molecular docking, which is essentially the virtual simulations of the interactions between proteins and ligands. However, molecular docking can be quite difficult to work with if one does not have the resources necessary such as the computer science knowledge, the supercomputers or the money to buy supercomputers. Thus, we worked to provide molecular docking as an accessible tool for non-computer science researchers. In order to do so, we developed virtual machines that had Dock6, a molecular docking program and we incorporated Hadoop, a framework that allows for parallel processing of multiple jobs and the processing of large data sets, onto the virtual machines. Thus, through the incorporation of Hadoop, we were able to improve the virtual machines that will be used in the future to upload on a commercial cloud, available for all researchers.
In order to conduct my research project in Japan, we were first trained during Spring Quarter for 4 hours a week. During those 4 hours, we learned the basics that we would be using throughout the internship. In addition, we also participated in cultural workshops where we discussed what we expected/what we were looking forward to during the trip. Throughout my 8 weeks in Japan, I was able to not only travel and discover the surroundings, but I also conducted research daily. I worked from 10am to 5pm everyday and on the weekends, we were free to go on our adventures and explore Japan. At the end of the internship, I was able to code in python, create my own virtual machines, install Hadoop and read computer science articles."

What were some of the biggest challenges?

"One of the biggest challenges I faced during the Field Experience was my lack of experience and knowledge in computer science. As a Human Biology major, I had no previous experience in coding. I was able to overcome the challenge through a lot of preparation. In order to even apply to be in PRIME, I had to write a research proposal that described my future project. In order to do so, I researched previous articles, met up with my mentor to learn more about the project and did some online learning to learn how to code python."

What are some valuable things you learned during your field experience?

"I learned that kindness is universal and whenever one is in need, someone will definitely reach out to you. I also learned that there’s so much to explore outside your comfort bubble, and it is worth every single time to be uncomfortable and step outside of the comfort zone. I also made so many friendships based on the most random moments. I also made the best memories. From climbing Mount Fuji, to eating shabu shabu with the rest of my lab or to visiting Sendai with an elderly couple that took us in… Traveling is simply amazing.
On a more professional note, I learned that hard work is and will always be highly respected and admired. No matter how hard one struggles, if she tries and reaches out for help, people will admire her and support her no matter what."

What did you do during your free time during the field experience?

"During my free time, I was able to travel all over Japan. I visited all the cities around me (Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto) during the weekends and I had a week break where I was able to go to Tokyo (and climb Mount Fuji!), Nagoya, Hiroshima and I was even able to go to a music festival!"

How does your Field Experience relate back to your work at UCSD?

"Doing re-entry workshops, writing a research paper and preparing a poster for the poster session."
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