Alumni Profile – Usman Jamshed


Tell me about yourself

My undergraduate degree was in biology and pharmacology from McMaster University in Canada. I was interested in protein binding and molecules, which brought me to pharmacology. I got some co-op experiences working at pharmaceutical companies in the States doing wet lab work. 

I had gotten into computational work because of the COVID-19 pandemic since I wasn’t able to go into the lab. I’d taken some CS courses in undergrad, and thought, well, I have nothing to do, so I’ll just stay on the computer, right? Eventually, I realized that I didn’t really wanna do wet lab work and that I enjoyed computation a lot more. This led me to apply to graduate programs focused on applying computation to science. 


Why did you choose MSSE?

I applied and was accepted to Ph.D. programs, but I decided it’s a five-year commitment that I might not enjoy. Looking back now, I made the right decision doing the two-year master’s because my interests have changed so much in two years. Originally, I loved chemistry and computational chemistry, but during the program and my internship at Moderna, I realized I was most interested in biophysics and software engineering.  

The MSSE exists because typically the people who get scientific software developer roles and scientific software engineering roles are people with Ph.D.’s who have done coding in their Ph.D. studies, which typically takes four to five years for someone to be ready to start a career; thus, there is a gap in that market. With MSSE you can get this experience in a year or two. You have the fundamentals that apply to many roles.


What else have you been up to since you graduated from the MSSE program?

I graduated three months ago, and I’m still wrapping up a co-op at Moderna. At Moderna, through new libraries or software, my role is to automate and streamline wet lab scientists’ work. Our computer simulations help speed up work that would take them a long time to do with assays. 

I love working closely with the cutting-edge research getting done by scientists and seeing their current work, new papers, and stuff like that.  

Once my co-op ends, I’ll be applying for full-time jobs. I have honestly been working on projects, and I’ve been relaxing a lot more since finishing the degree. 


How has the MSSE degree prepared you for your work and job search?

A lot of the stuff that MSSE taught me was foundational for the work I have been doing. I do bioinformatics work, but the problems that I solve are foundationally software development and regular computer science problems like how can we optimize this algorithm. 

The foundations that MSSE teaches you in Python and C++ are transferable to any form of computational work, and the projects you complete in the program are really useful when you’re looking for jobs. During the degree, you complete a lot of projects in the realm of molecular science and software engineering, and some are open-ended. 

Since I’m applying for niche roles that are scientific software engineering or scientific software developer roles, these projects helped me out a lot. Even for regular software engineering roles, the projects that you complete in the degree set you apart from other CS students, since no one other than other MSSE students are doing projects like these. 

For example, my capstone project was helping to create a web application and a portal to showcase organophosphate ligand data for other wet lab scientists and researchers. I’ve still been continuing to contribute and collaborate on that project, and it’s been something really useful to talk about in interviews and such. 


What are you excited about in your industry?

I’m excited about all the advances in AI being applied to protein structures, like AlphaFold.  For context, it would typically take years to get a crystal protein structure for a protein. The actual structure can take a Ph.D. student anywhere from a couple of years up to perhaps four years, and one crystal structure is a Ph.D. defense. So a lot of work goes into it. 

In the past few years, AI and these new models have facilitated in obtaining some structural predictions that are helpful when you don’t have the groundwork. Experimental work will always be king. I don’t see that being replaced in our lifetime, just based on how difficult and intricate it is, but we’ve come a long way in the last three to four years. There’s been a huge resurgence. This technology is how we got the COVID-19 vaccine to come out as fast as it did. AI’s been on the cutting edge now for some time, and people are putting a lot of investment into it.  I’m excited to see where it goes in the next five to ten years.


How did you manage the workload of working full-time and completing the program part-time?

You can be successful working during the program or you can choose not to work. There is no right or wrong way to do the program. 

Honestly, it was hard to work 8 hours and then find the energy and time to do the assignments and watch lectures.  It is a lot. The support from the cohort of students got me through the program.  I will say that if you are choosing to do this program while working, you will need to make some sacrifices, as you can’t do it all. 


Anything else to tell current students?

The degree is what you make of it. The MSSE degree gives you what you need to succeed, but at the end of the day, it is on you to use these skills and make the most of your degree.