Jiaxian Shen is a recent Ph.D. graduate from Northwestern University. She works at the intersection of indoor environmental microbiomes, public health, and data science. We recently talked with Jiaxian about her research. (Answers have been lightly edited.)
How did you get interested in microbiome research?
When I started college, I wanted to find ways to enhance the sustainable relationship between humans and the environment. I was deeply impressed by how powerful and beautiful microbes are. They can do things like eat plastic, oxidize methane, and even survive in outer space. But they are also very complicated to study. Then I learned about “microbiome,” which is a way to understand all the microbes living in a certain place. I found this idea really interesting and exciting. I feel it is a powerful and fascinating way to picture and decipher the complex and delicate microbial world.
Briefly describe your project as if you were talking to your grandmother. What excites you about your current research project?
You know how some people get sicker when they go to the hospital, because they catch new infections there? It can be even scarier if the germs are resistant to antibiotics, because then the medicines might not work. My project is about figuring out if the hospital environment has these tough germs, and how they might be causing these infections. I’m also working on finding better ways to study this problem.
What excites you about your current research project?
This work is exciting to me because it could help make hospitals safer and prevent people from getting these tough-to-treat infections.
How does your work contribute to researchers’ understanding of the microbiome?
The workflow I developed helps researchers better understand which microbes are viable within a community and their absolute quantities, rather than simply their percentages. I trained a machine learning model that provides researchers with more actionable guidance on the number of samples they could put into a sequencing run to achieve desired outcomes. In addition, I also developed an R package to perform better deduplication of literature papers, which helps researchers conduct systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
What song do you currently have on repeat?
You Raise Me Up.
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