My Story

By Daniel Chen

March 20, 2017

How did I get to where I am today.

This is my story.


I've always been surrounded by computers. My parents both studied Computer Science, and my dad holds a Master's in Computer Science and works as a software developer. Growing up, all my computers were company hand-me-downs, but it allowed me to be lucky enough to always have a computer in the house. I liked to tinker, not as a programmer, or hacker, but more of a user. As a child, one of the first things I'd do when I open a program would to find the preferences tab of a program, and learn what settings were available, and learn how to use a piece of software.

I competed in the ThinkQuest Internet Challenge in the 5th grade, and co-authored an award winning website on Epilepsy.

High School

I was fortunate to attend Stuyvesant High School, a specialized math and science high school in NYC. One semester of programming was a mandatory for all sophomores. Looking back, I'm amazed the amount of material covered in a semester of school: Netlogo (where I co-wrote a BlackJack game), Scheme (where I wrote a visual calculator that worked with negative values, e.g., xx - xxx = -x), and Python (where I wrote a strategy for Prisoner's Dilemma).


My undergraduate years was focused on getting into medical school. I ended up graduating with a major in Psychology with a concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience, and minors in Biology and Computer Science.

My high school experience in computer science was a bit traumatic, and prevented me from programming courses until my final couple of years in college. Bioinformatics was a major I was highly interested in, but the math and computer science requirements scared me into Psychology.

I ended up in Behavioral Neuroscience because it was a small and new program mainly aimed towards the Honors Students. Still focused on getting into medical school, this was the best choice at the time since it gave me wet-lab experience and the chance to work closely with professors for letters of recommendation.

During all of this I worked with Dr. Samuel Sigal in Hepatology at Wiel Cornell and NYU. I was on the clinical trials coordination team and got to interact with patients undergoing various Phase III clinical trials to cure Hepatitis C.


I got my Master's in Public Health because of the clinical research skills it would give me. It allowed me to build on the basic statistics knowledge I had from college, and learn the epidemiology and biostatistics skills for clinical and observational study design and regression analysis. I was lucky to be in the Department of Epidemiology when Sandro Galea was Chair of the department. Under his guide, the department had a big push to study complex systems approaches to public health. Here I got to work with Kerry Keyes, Magna Certa, and Melissa Tracy in a R01 studying injury from alcohol consumption in NYC. I also met Mark Orr, who became my Master's Thesis Advisor on measuring and simulating how behaviors spread in social networks.

I learned to love teaching when I was a Quantitative Methods (Epidemiology I and Biostat I) Teaching Assistant for Dana March. This let me to join Software Carpentry when I after a workshop led by Justin Ely and David Wade Farley.

I attended a Software Carpentry workshop when I took Introduction to Data Science during my Masters. The course was taught by Rachael Shutt, Kayur Patel, and Jared Lander. I learned R, and it changed my life. What started out as a Master’s in Public Health to gain clinical research skills before going to medical school quickly evolved into Data Science where data analytics applied to health became my new interest.


I’m currently at Virginia Tech in the Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology program. My lab, the Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory, is in Arlington, VA, and I occasionally have small consulting and side projects to help pay the bills and put guacamole on my Chipotle.

Posted on:
March 20, 2017
4 minute read, 672 words
teaching higher ed pfps17
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