Brandeis GPS Blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

Month: April 2023

Faces of GPS: Meet Alina Hicks, Executive and Financial Assistant

In this next addition of Faces of GPS, we’re delighted to introduce Alina Hicks, Executive and Financial Assistant for the Rabb School of Continuing Studies. Alina has been with GPS for over five years thus far, and on this year’s National Administrative Professionals Day, we’re excited to honor her for all of her hard work. Read below to learn more about Alina and her time at GPS!

Get to know Alina!

Q: What are some fun facts about you?

Outside of work, my favorite hobbies are birdwatching and photography, which I like to engage in while hiking on the weekends at one of the many lovely local nature trails. I also spend a lot of my free time with my sweet 2-year-old Havanese dog, Yuuki.

Q: Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born and raised in Wellesley, MA, and graduated from UMass Boston with a BA in Psychology. After college I worked for the better part of a decade as a financial transaction coordinator at a major real estate firm, but I applied to work at Brandeis University when I decided to pivot to a career in higher education administration. I’ve now been at Brandeis for over five years and am very proud to be a part of the excellent team that supports the Rabb School for Continuing Studies.

Q: What’s your favorite memory from your time at GPS ?

The moment that left a most lasting impression on me while working with GPS (so far!) was attending the first Rabb School diploma ceremony that I helped coordinate with the former Director of Student Services. After months of planning and organizing, it was so incredibly rewarding to see the fruits of our efforts culminate in an event brimming with such positive energy. Commencement is a joyous day in which we celebrate the hard work and success of our graduates with them and their loved ones, and to see everyone’s smiles as they beamed with pride in their accomplishments makes all the effort worthwhile!

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Read more Faces of GPS stories.


Brandeis GPS Student Spotlight

Picture of Nygil Hayward in front of a sparkly blue backdropStudent Spotlight

Nyjil Hayward ’24


Lab Manager I: Laboratory Informatics at Delaware Public Health Laboratory

Program: MS in Bioinformatics

In his free time, Nyjil likes to play basketball, go to the beach, and hang out with family.

Get to know Nyjil Hayward! 

Why did you choose Brandeis GPS?
When I was searching for a Bioinformatics program, Brandeis immediately caught my attention. The curriculum not only offered courses that were relevant to my current occupation, but also a range of other bioinformatics applications that piqued my interest. The program’s online learning format allows me to complete the degree at my own pace. This makes it an ideal fit for a full-time working professional like me. All in all, I believe that Brandeis’ program is the perfect choice for me to advance my career in the field of Bioinformatics.

What inspired you to choose your field of study?
I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and I had limited knowledge about bioinformatics until I stumbled upon the field while working as a molecular biologist performing NGS protocols on clinical COVID specimens. As I gained more experience in sequencing, I started collaborating closely with the lab’s sole bioinformatician. This experience sparked my curiosity in bioinformatic analyses and motivated me to delve deeper into the field. Gradually, I found myself increasingly drawn to the subject matter and eventually decided this is what I wanted to pursue.

How have you enjoyed your experience at Brandeis thus far?
My experience at Brandeis has been nothing short of amazing. Despite the occasional challenges in coursework, I find the material fascinating and the instructors to be exceptionally supportive. Through my studies, I have acquired a set of valuable skills that I have already been able to apply in my day-to-day activities at my current job.

What has been your favorite class to-date?
My favorite class has been RBIF 111: Biomedical Statistics with R. While I have always been fond of science, my passion for mathematics is unmatched. When selecting this program, I made it a priority to learn how to use R. With this class, I had the perfect blend of both worlds — the opportunity to refresh and hone my statistical skills while also learning how to effectively use R.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the rest of your time at Brandeis?
As I transition into latter half of the program, I’m looking forward to continuing to explore the various bioinformatics applications in this industry.

What are your plans for after graduation?

Currently, I am working in a role that allows me to undertake various bioinformatics tasks, as well as oversee the department and serve as a Laboratory Information Systems Administrator. Pursuing this degree will not only supplement my existing knowledge and skill set but will also equip me with the necessary expertise to spearhead the development of the Laboratory Informatics department at DPHL.

What advice would you give to upcoming students?

My best advice would be don’t hesitate to utilize the discussion boards and seek help from your peers. Apart from textbooks and the professor, your classmates are a valuable resource. Additionally, the forums serve as a platform to ask questions and seek guidance, which can potentially offer benefits to other students.

For more information on the MS in Bioinformatics or any other GPS programs, visit our website.

Brandeis GPS Student Spotlight

Headshot of Michelle Ysrael, Bioinformatics '23Student Spotlight

Michelle Ysrael ’23

Los Angeles, CA

Veterinary Technician at VCA Animal Hospitals

Program: MS in Bioinformatics

In her free time, Michelle likes to surf and read. She also likes to spend time with her cat, Lily, and her corgi, Cannoli.

Get to know Michelle Ysrael! 

Why did you choose Brandeis GPS?
I was really impressed with the range of courses offered in the Bioinformatics program that provided the biological and mathematical background needed to understand how computational analysis can be applied towards scientific/clinical research. I was also looking to complete my degree in about a year, and this program offered a way to do that alongside a part-time work schedule.

What inspired you to choose your field of study?
I have been working as a veterinary technician since graduating from college to gain clinical experience, and wanted to expand my knowledge to be able to work in other areas of the veterinary field, including research and technology/drug development. I wanted to gain a toolset that would allow me to bridge the gap between bench science and clinical application, and felt that bioinformatics was the field most involved in this translational research. I also felt learning how to work with data would be a valuable skill to have in any career direction I took, and being able to learn how to do this through a biology-driven lens sounded interesting.

How have you enjoyed your experience at Brandeis thus far?
The transition to remote learning was daunting at first, but since learning how to make and stick to my study schedules and utilize the resources available through Brandeis I have felt much more confident in my ability to work independently. I have also learned how to efficiently use Google — there is a skill to it (lol). The required discussion posts have stimulated interesting discussions and helped me learn more about my peers and their lines of work and interests.

What has been your favorite class to-date?
I really enjoyed my last class, RBIF 112: Mathematical Modeling for Bioinformatics, because it was an extension to a previous class where we learned the basics of R programming and statistical analysis. In this class, we got to apply what we learned and use the tools we acquired to access publicly available datasets, process and transform data for statistical analysis, apply classification methods for data exploration, and build models for the investigation of biological systems and processes. The class was set up to allow us to find our own particular coding style and methods of data exploration.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the rest of your time at Brandeis?
I hope to further develop my coding abilities and be able to more critically read and interpret scientific studies.

What are your plans for after graduation?

There are a lot of different applications for bioinformatics, which is exciting to me. I plan on eventually applying my knowledge towards animal research and wildlife management, and have been looking at jobs that span clinical research to environmental consulting, where I hope to aid in making data translational and accessible.

What advice would you give to upcoming students?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers! Setting up Slack groups has been so important in the remote learning process. Also go to office hours and talk to your professors, they are very knowledgeable and want to see you succeed!

For more information on the MS in Bioinformatics or any other GPS programs, visit our website.

Faculty Spotlight: Sean Milligan

Sean MilliganFaculty member Sean Milligan teaches in the Project and Program Management MS. Having worked in the project management realm for almost 30 years, Sean knows the ins and outs of the industry and the changes it has undergone. At GPS, Sean teaches the course “The Human Side of Project Leadership,” which dives into the people side of managing projects and programs. 

What led you to the project and program management field?

I love this question, because while Project Managers found the field in so many different ways, responses are pretty similar sometimes.  In essence, I started my professional career as a technical writer and got somewhat bored quickly.  Someone commented on my ability to organize and set goals with the writing I was doing and suggested that I look into Project Management.  I did, and the control freak in me really liked what I saw, so I pursued a position with the same company and off I went into the Project Management realm.  Almost 30 years later, that path has provided me with so many wonderful experiences.

What industry trend is currently exciting you?

What excites me about Project Management is the evolution the field has experienced.  Years ago, the Business Analysis and Project Management fields underwent a marriage of sorts and the two roles became quite similar.  Over the last few years, organizations have driven another evolution and Project Managers are viewed less as administrative roles and more as leaders who are driving strategic planning and objectives.  I find this trend exciting, and also get excited by the fact that we rarely hear about too many organizations that don’t have a Project Management function…and that function is now part of the strategic arms of companies.

What are your best hopes for students in your courses?

I created and now teach a course called “The Human Side of Project Leadership,” which dives into the people side of managing projects and programs. The course teaches students about the human factors that are evident in the teams they manage, and helps them to analyze strategies for effectively applying these factors to their leadership style.  My hope is that this course and others in the program provide students with the ability to find that delicate balance between the science of Project Management and the art of leadership.

Any advice for students or alumni who are job searching or preparing for a project and program management job search in the near future?

Prepare yourself to excel at leading without direct authority over the people and teams you will be managing.  There are so many resources available to students and alumni on leadership, leadership styles, team dynamics, etc., and not taking the time to hone in on your leadership skills is a big miss in today’s job market.  Project Managers who are simply acting as administrators are few and far between, as organizations are looking for candidates that can effectively lead their teams and meet strategic objectives.  I sound like a broken record, but today’s Project Managers have to balance the science with the art. 

For more information on the Project and Program Management MS or other online master’s degrees available at GPS, please visit

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