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Joanna Bitton

Computer Science masters student, New York University

 

And - Soon-to-be software engineer, Facebook

I cannot think of a better way to make a difference than to create machine learning models that can help with early diagnosis of cancers.

What do you do?

I’m currently a graduate student at New York University's Courant Institute. I am taking: Computer Vision, Heuristic Problem Solving, and Machine Learning for Healthcare. I dedicate most of my days to my projects for each of these classes, but I also do research in the field of computational biology. Specifically, I use machine learning to aid biologists with the problems that come up in their research.

Why did you choose this field?

"Computer science is powerful - you can apply your technical skills to any field."

It’s an interesting story. From the age of five, I was so determined to be a doctor. I wanted to do cancer research and help fight Leukaemia (my mother passed away from Leukaemia when I was six). However, at age 14, I was talking to my Algebra teacher and she told me “No, you’re not going to be a doctor. You are going to be a programmer.” I was so furious - I had been so determined to be a doctor. That year, I progressed from being a full Biology major to being a full Computer Science major. I realized that Computer Science is powerful. I have three older sisters and they each are successful and established computer scientists. I knew it was feasible for me to be successful in the field, so I pursued it.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

"I don't need to wait to make a difference - I can make one today."

I knew from the age of five that I wanted to help fight Leukaemia. However, I was not aware of the variety of ways I could achieve this goal. Earlier this year, I developed a machine learning model that could determine whether someone will be diagnosed Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in their lives. There is a lot of room for improvement in the model, but’s a small step towards my life goal - and it was accomplished at the age of 19. 

Why do you love working in STEM?

Because there is such a high potential for impact. I want to make a difference and to improve people’s lives in some way. I cannot think of a better way to make a difference than to create machine learning models that can help with early diagnosis of cancers. I wake up every day looking forward to learning new things that can help me achieve my goals.

Best advice for the next generation

Don’t fear the stigma towards Computer Science or any STEM field- it’s not super scary. All those complex math equations? You don’t need to know them when you start majoring in your respective STEM field. You will take many classes, and suddenly, those equations will start to make sense. There have been so many instances where I have seen a scary-looking math equation, took a second look, and realized it wasn’t that scary. The most important thing is to know that you are capable. Come with an open mind. 

Fun fact

I started college at age 15 and graduated with my Bachelor’s degree at age 18. (I graduate with my Master’s degree at age 20). Also I went to Mark Zuckerberg’s house for dinner and got to discuss my experience at Facebook as an intern with him and the CTO of Facebook.