The Brandeis GPS blog

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

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How to Stay Sane during this Quarantine

These past couple of weeks have proved to be trying times for the global community. This transition to an online world has left many scrambling for a sense of normalcy. Many find themselves worried about the safety of their loved ones, especially if they are in the high-risk category. Others are trying to parent during a pandemic while also maintaining their regular work schedule. So, how do we keep our sanity during this unprecedented global lockdown? We have compiled a list of some helpful tips to stay sane during quarantine.

1. Stick to a routine

Being stuck inside can make the days blend together and amplify negative emotions. Creating a sense of structure during these uncertain times can help to soothe nerves. Take some time out of your day to figure out all of the activities that were important to you before the global pandemic. Did you go to the gym everyday? Try to workout at home (there are plenty of free workouts on youtube). Create a detailed schedule and stick to it. Be sure to include  when to wake up, shower, work, exercise, and most importantly, when you can relax. Hopefully this will help to create some semblance of normalcy.

2. Limit your news intake

It is important to keep up-to-date with information regarding the Coronavirus, especially when it concerns regulations or guidelines for public interactions in your area. But obsessing over the latest Coronavirus news can be  unhealthy and detrimental to your mental health. Consider limiting your news intake to just one or two times a day. Also, remember to check the reliability of your news source. One of the best sources of information about the Coronavirus is the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Another great resource for mental health coping strategies during these unprecedented times is NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), which we encourage everyone to read. 

3.Stay physically active

WHO, otherwise known as the World Health Organization, strongly recommends that everyone finds a way to stay physically active during self-quarantine. It’s important to our health and well-being to avoid remaining sedentary. Try taking a few breaks during your day to go on short walks, even if it’s just around your house. And get outside if you can! Just remember that if you plan on exercising outside, to do so by abiding by the CDC guidelines.

Bioinformatics and COVID-19 therapeutics

By Alan Cheng

Unprecedented. It describes the current pandemic and its terrible human and economic impact. It also describes the speed and pace of scientific work unraveling the novel virus and enabling drug discovery efforts. That speed and pace is driven in no small part by recent bioinformatics advances.

The first global alert of a novel virus causing severe cases of pneumonia came in late December 2019. Just a couple weeks later, the first genome sequence of this novel virus was completed, enabling scientists to use bioinformatics to identify the novel virus as a beta-coronavirus, and a relative of the SARS and MERS viruses. A phylogenetic analysis found the novel virus most closely resembles the SARS-CoV coronavirus, leading to the official naming of the virus as SARS-CoV-2.

Naming the virus is one thing. Using bioinformatics approaches again, the proteins produced by the virus were identified, and subsequently made and characterized using experimental molecular biology techniques. The close homology of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins to those from SARS-CoV enabled us to transfer the learnings about SARS over the last 15+ years to help us understand SARS-CoV-2 and accelerate vaccine and drug discovery efforts around the world. Homology modeling allows us to rapidly build approximate 3D structures of the proteins and help suggest existing experimental drugs that were quickly put into clinical trials for combatting SARS-CoV-2 viral entry and replication. Experimental molecular biology and protein structure work, while more time and resource-intensive, has led to more accurate atomic resolution 3D structures of key SARS-Cov-2 proteins, including the spike protein, RNA polymerase, and main protease. This molecular understanding allows scientists at biopharmaceutical and academic institutions to efficiently begin to identify molecules that are not only efficacious in stopping viral expansion but also selective enough to be safe while not being too selective that viruses can easily mutate away from drug binding. All of this happened within two months of the genome sequence, with many efforts, especially in drug discovery, ongoing.

There is still a lot unknown about medical aspects of the disease itself, and how SARS-CoV2 interacts with and affects human host biology. Using proteomics approaches, scientists are identifying human host interactions with the viral proteins. Using genomics and statistical genetics approaches, scientists are analyzing how each of our unique genetic compositions and health situations affects disease progression, which will impact how we can most effectively treat patients. Longer term, the unprecedented speed enabled in no small part by bioinformatics will be important in preventing and treating future epidemics as well.

Developing your bioinformatics skillsets. The importance of bioinformatics in improving human health is growing. For current and prospective Brandeis students, here is how your coursework relates to the approaches being discussed.

  • Foundational bioinformatics analysis
    RBIF 101: Bioinformatics Scripting and Databases with Python
    RBIF 111: Biomedical Statistics with R
  • Genomics analysis of viruses and host response
    RBIF 109: Biological Sequence Analysis
  • Protein homology modeling and structural bioinformatics
    RBIF 101: Structural Bioinformatics
  • Understanding disease biology
    RBIF 102: Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Disease
  • Proteomics and expression profiling
    RBIF 114: Molecular Profiling and Biomarker Discovery
    RBIF 112: Mathematical Modeling for Bioinformatics
  • How individual human genetics affects disease progression
    RBIF 108: Computational Systems Biology
    RBIF 115: Statistical Genetics
    RBIF 290: Special Topics: Functional Genomics
  • Drug discovery for treatments
    RBIF 106: Drug Discovery and Development
    RBIF 110: Cheminformatics

Bioinformatics resources

Dr. Alan Cheng is chair of the MS in Bioinformatics program at Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies. In his day job, Alan is a Director at Merck & Co., where he leads a group applying computational and structure-based approaches towards discovery of new therapeutics. He received a PhD from the University of California, San Francisco, and undergraduate degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. All opinions presented here are his own.

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more about the MS in Bioinformatics, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps.

Student Spotlight: Stuart Mitchell

Student Spotlight: Brett Stephens

An open source education program that suits your availability and learning style

Brandeis University and the Open Source Initiative® (OSI) announced at OSCON 2019 that they would be partnering to provide new educational offerings for the open source community. The OSI-Brandeis partnership aims to help address the growing demand for expertise within organizations seeking to authentically collaborate with, and productively manage, open source resources.

Now, more than ever, OSI and Brandeis University understand that providing options that align with individuals’ lifestyle and learning style ensures a positive learning experience. The fully-online Open Source Technology Management program that was initially launched in January has been redesigned to empower professionals in the open source community to pursue a valuable and needs-specific professional development opportunity. In fact, there are no prerequisites for the program.

The first micro-course of the program begins on June 1, 2020. Students have the choice to select one of four learning options. Participation in the program provides the opportunity to obtain open source skills that will set open source professionals apart from their colleagues, collaborate with fellow open source community members, and have access to quality coursework that is endorsed by OSI.

Option 1
Take a single 4-week micro-course. The upcoming course that will be offered is Cultivate an Open Course Community. Other courses in the program include:

  • Integrate the Open Source Community (launches July 6, 2020)
  • Open Source Business Practices
  • Establish an Open Source Program Office
  • Open Source Workflow and Infrastructure
  • Production of Distributed Open Source Software

Option 2
Complete two micro-courses in a given topic area, and earn a digital badge in one of these three areas: The Business of Open Source, Open Source Community Development, or Open Source Development Fundamentals.

Option 3
Complete all six micro-courses, and receive a certificate in Open Source Technology Management.

Option 4
Complete a capstone assignment at the conclusion of two micro-courses, and earn 3 graduate-level credits.

True to open source software process and principles, the educational offerings coming out of the partnership are crowd-sourced and jointly developed by an advisory board comprised of university curriculum development experts and senior open source advocates from Amazon, Red Hat, Bloomberg, Twitter and other leading companies.

Sign up to receive more information about the program. Specific questions can be emailed to Kathryn Wight, Director of Partnership Engagement.

Student Spotlight: Ines Stafford

 

Student Spotlight: Jennifer Faske

Student Spotlight: Li-Tao Guo

The Rise of FinTechs Partnering with Financial Institutions

By Gideon Taub

The Disruptor Era

The first few waves of FinTechs primarily pursued a direct-to-consumer strategy, disrupting the legacy Financial Institutions and dis-intermediating banks, brokerages, and credit unions. Services like Mint (founded 2006), Wealthfront (founded 2008), Venmo (founded 2009), and Robinhood (founded 2013) all had a significant impact on how their customers manage their finances and forced the incumbent financial institutions to adapt, whether it be by building their own robo-advisors, creating Zelle, and decreasing brokerage fees.

Very few ‘disruptor era’ FinTechs focused on partnering with legacy financial institutions to drive their distribution, and those that did faced uphill challenges in terms of not being embraced by banks, offering inferior user experiences due to the limitations of legacy vendors, and long, if not, impossible implementations.

Partnering with Financial Institutions as a Great Distribution Strategy

As we look across the FinTech ecosystem, we’re now seeing far more startups focus on a B2B2C business model, partnering with banks, brokerages, and credit unions to reach customers. As we look at the startups (including our company, Pinkaloo) in the recent MassChallenge FinTech cohorts in 630’s recent programs; and in other leading FinTech Accelerators, we’re seeing many consumer-facing solutions whose primary business model is partnering with financial institutions.

What’s driving that change?

  1. Financial Institutions Eager to Partner

The innovation being led by the Direct-to-Consumer FinTechs is forcing the incumbent Financial Institutions to adapt, and in many cases, partnering is the less expensive and faster path to support that.

Like in the case of the development of Zelle, we’ve seen banks come together to create their own solution, but for many others, such as better customer onboarding experiences, chat bots, and white-label Donor Advised Funds, it makes more sense to partner.

  1. The Incumbent Vendors Are Opening APIs

The leading vendors, particularly the front-end banking providers, have similarly realized that the best way to meet their clients’ needs is to open up APIs and SDKs and allow FinTechs to create beautiful solutions on top of their infrastructure. Those vendors don’t have to build every solution themselves and it makes it even harder for their clients to switch, a win for all parties.

  1. Lower Marketing and Customer Acquisition Costs

For the FinTechs, partnering offers a distribution channel with much lower marketing and customer acquisition costs. Digital advertising rates for financial services products are particularly costly, so being able to generate recurring revenue via partnering is particularly attractive.

The Downsides to Partnering

As FinTechs decide on their go-to-market strategy, they should be sure to consider the downsides to this approach. First, most financial institutions are still learning how to successfully work with FinTechs, and sales and implementation cycles can be long.

The partnership strategy also requires a more mature, enterprise-ready product. You can throw the ‘Minimum Viable Product’ mindset out the window, as financial institutions expect and need a more sophisticated product.

Lastly, be prepared for a thorough compliance and diligence review, and be ready to dedicate tech resources to working through that. For many, Pinkaloo, included, the benefit far outweighs those downsides.

Gideon Taub is the CEO of Pinkaloo Technologies. Pinkaloo helps businesses engage their customers and communities through philanthropy and helps donors manage their giving through Pinkaloo’s white-label Modern Giving accounts.

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more about the MS in Digital Innovation for FinTech, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps.

Student Spotlight: Esther Brandon

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