inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Ashley Conard

“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.”

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I am a first-year in a Masters to PhD program in Computational Biology at Brown University, working on Cancer Genomics. I am a Student Board Member at the Anita Borg Institute, and the Finance Chair for the International Society of Computational Biology Student Council. I received a Fulbright Research Fellowship last year to Belgium where I pursued a research project using game theory to understand the mechanisms driving a particular protein binding affinity. Fun fact about me: I speak French and Spanish fluently, I’m learning Portuguese and  Chinese… oh, and I made a farm at my alma mater liberal arts school with support from Jane Goodall!!

What # would define your life journey?
6/13-this is probably the number that defines my life journey, which is actually a date. This was the month I started an internship that would change my trajectory. I joined the internship program at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. I had previously come from Indianapolis, which is really not a hub of any kind for interesting computational biology research. The highest I could move was to work at Eli Lilly, which I experienced through several internships there.. but I wanted something else.. There was something missing. I wanted an opportunity that would challenge me, that would put me among people of similar interests, where I could learn the skills that were not offered to me in my degree, and make me think about how to improve my skills, not those that would benefit a company.

At MIT Lincoln laboratory I felt very much one of the middle tier, but I learned so much and I grew so quickly. I owe a large part of my successes to my supervisor Jeremy Kepner who continually pushed me and encouraged me to continue as I was. This led me on the track to my PhD at Brown and I am forever grateful. Now, I am engaged in incredible research, and I continue to learn an immense amount every day in this challenging environment. I take time to give back through mentorship, leadership opportunities and outreach.
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Favorite website / app:
Stack Overflow: I answer questions and ask them! I learn so much!!

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted (if any):
The person that inspires me actually comes in a pair, in my case. My two sisters. We bounce ideas off of one another, we dedicate the time necessary when the other has something to talk about or needs help. We support one another and give extremely different perspectives on various situations, which is all very important. We respect each other’s time and are very honest with one another.

I have answered this question very differently in the past but the reason I choose my sisters is because they’ve imparted the kind of knowledge that I need to hear through encouragement in times of doubt, and through advice in times of need. I think the coolest part of our relationship is that we are all mentors and mentees to one another. I can help them as they can help me. While they tell me to stay strong and remember who I am and what my passions are, I can tell them the same types of things, because I know them.

So now I direct this statement to other young women. As you look to answer this question yourselves, remember that someone else sees you as that inspirational person. Start mentoring other women and young ladies who are in your field or going through a similar experience. Through mentorship you will be able to answer questions and impart knowledge, as well as ask questions yourself. I think it is in these moments that one truly can learn the most about oneself.

Song that makes you want to dance:
Bennie and the Jets, but there are SO many that my answer definitely would change based on the day haha:)

Technical challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
Coding quickly and concisely. I’ve been overcoming that by not putting myself down, looking for resources, and asking for help when I feel it would be faster and more beneficial than figuring it out on my own.

Ideal Job:
Working as a group leader or director in an international company on a  biomedical project, whether that’s in biodefense, medical treatment, or research. I’m very interested in the political side of science research… So honestly in the far future I would love to work in science policy for the government, UN, or WHO.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Look for a friend who will LISTEN and PUSH YOU through. If that’s a boyfriend, that’s okay too. Make sure you know it’s okay to struggle, because that’s how we learn the worthy lessons!!! When you have attained something, help others learn too! Give back- it will help you feel great, and you will grace society with your skills and heart:)

Lastly- find a mentor…. Find someone who has been there, done that- and ask them questions. Any and all questions:)

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