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Can you tell us about your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
Harish Swaminathan hadn’t even completed his bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Anna University in his native India before deciding he would cross the Atlantic Ocean to earn his master’s degree in the United States, which Harish says is “the leading country in the world in graduate research.” Using the Internet to search the different options available to him, Harish stumbled upon Rutgers-Camden. He knew he was interested in doing experimental work on biological models and wanted to be on the cutting edge of science research, and so the campus’ computational and integrative biology program was particularly appealing to him. Rutgers-Camden ended up on his short list of schools he hoped to attend.
Why did you join Rutgers-Camden?
Harish accepted Rutgers-Camden’s offer of admission. Before he even started the program, Harish received an email from Dr. Desmond Lun, Associate Professor of Computer Science, who wanted to offer some words of welcome and to ask Harish if he had any interest in furthering his education and pursuing a doctoral degree in computational and integrative biology. “The more I learned about Dr. Lun’s research, the more intrigued I became, and so I decided to give it a shot,” Harish says.
Can you describe your research at Rutgers-Camden?
After making the decision to attend Rutgers-Camden, Harish left India for the United States. He found an apartment in Philadelphia and settled in to his new life as a Rutgers-Camden graduate student. He immediately found the campus’ atmosphere very welcoming and felt at ease, knowing he made the right choice. His first semester, he took Essentials of Computer Science I with Dr. Sunil Shende, Associate Professor of Computer Science, a class that greatly increased his interest in coding. “That class is crucial to the work that I do. It was really beneficial and I learned a lot.”
Now in his third year at Rutgers-Camden, Harish is currently working with Dr. Lun on multiple projects, including one called “Estimating the number of contributors to a DNA sample.” Harish explains that in forensic crime scenes, it is necessary to match the DNA found at the scene with that of the suspect. However, the DNA found at the scene is sometimes complex and can have a mix of DNA from multiple people. Along with Dr. Lun and an undergraduate computer science student named Douglas Tait, Harish is working to develop a quantitative model which can determine the number of contributors to a DNA sample. “I love the work,” Harish says. “I love the real-world application.” The other project Harish is engaged in is “A method to include/exclude an individual as a contributor to a DNA sample.”
In addition to working on his research, this past semester Harish supervised the research of an undergraduate for the first time. He credits Dr. Lun and Dr. Benedetto Piccoli, Professor of Mathematical Science and Joseph and Loretta Lopez Chair in Mathematics, with helping him to learn how to advise his student, an experience he calls “challenging but rewarding.”
What are plans after PhD?
Currently, Harish plans on graduating in May 2015 and would like to stay in the United States as a post-doctoral student, conducting research in forensics. For now, however, Harish is content at Rutgers-Camden. He’s full of admiration for his computational and integrative biology colleagues, calling them “extremely clever” and praising their research. “I’ve made a lot of friends here,” Harish says. “It’s a great environment for performing scientific research.” Truly, though Harish is a long way from India, he’s right at home here at Rutgers-Camden.