Meet Our Professors – Dr. Randall (Randy) Johnson

0Tell us about yourself…

My background is in statistical genetics. I entered Utah State University as a business major and toured the biology and engineering departments before I found a home in the mathematics department. I graduated with two Bachelor’s degrees, in statistics and computational mathematics. I received my Master’s in Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University and started work at the National Cancer Institute. After a few years, I went back to school part time at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métier, earning my PhD in bioinformatics in 2013.

You have worked for the National Cancer Institute for years. What was your job with NCI and what did you like the most there?

I’ve spent most of the last 14 years at NCI working on statistical analyses of genetic data. One of my favorite parts of my job is working on a wide variety of problems. Examples include studying admixed populations (e.g. African-Americans) to identify disease genes, looking for genetic associations with rapid progression from HIV infection to the development of AIDS, and performing meta analyses of published breast cancer gene expression studies. I’ve also had the opportunity to manage a few projects, including a data security project to evaluate all NCI/Frederick sensitive data and make recommendations for protection of the data.

Could you describe to us what are you currently working on?

One project I’m currently working on started as a simple request from a collaborator to review some of his code. As we began the process of reviewing and improving the code, the scope of what he was trying to accomplish became a problem. With his original code, we estimated that his analysis would take approximately 100 years to run on his laptop. We have optimized the code significantly and are now performing a few final tests to run it on the Biowulf high performance computing cluster at NIH. With access to thousands of processors, we anticipate that the optimized code will be able to generate the desired results in a few days’ time.

How did hear about Hood College and how did you end up here? What classes are you teaching at Hood?

About a year ago a colleague at work approached me about teaching the Bioinformatics Applications series (BIFX 552/553) at Hood. In these two classes we cover the basic tools and methods needed to understand and carry out bioinformatic analyses. I’ve really enjoyed teaching – the topics we cover are interesting, and the students have been great. It is immensely satisfying to share knowledge with people who want to learn.

Why would you recommend Hood’s Bioinformatics Program to students looking into this particular field?

The new Bioinformatics program at Hood provides a great opportunity for students to break into this quickly evolving field. We have good teachers with real, practical experience.