University of Minnesota
“When I first took my course in computer programming in college I thought to myself ‘This is what I’m going to do,’” says MSSE alumna Sue Van Riper. Van Riper had taken programming classes in high school, but it was when she got to college at Winona State that she truly connected with computer science. Since then she has received her undergraduate degree, her Masters degree in Software Engineering and is now working on her Ph.D. in the Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology (BICB) program. Before starting at the University of Minnesota, Van Riper had been a programmer, and had her own consulting company. After the Y2K recession she began working for a financial institution. It was while there that she began looking for graduate programs in computer science. “I was looking for a challenge,” Van Riper says. At that time, she was living near Duluth and working remotely. When it came to her search for a graduate program, location and schedule were a major factor in her decision-making process. “One of the things that attracted me to the MSSE program was the schedule, the format and that it had a cohort,” she says. “I also appreciated that the program was designed for working professionals.” Van Riper also adds, “I also wasn’t sure that I was ready to give up working in order to go to school.”
It was while she was in the program that she became interested in computational techniques for better medical diagnoses. Now in her fourth year of Ph.D. study, Van Riper’s research uses identification and quantification algorithms in proteomics to discover new diagnostic biomarkers in saliva. The group is looking for biomarkers for oral cancer, with the hope that someday these could be used to create an at-home diagnostic kit.
When she is done with her Ph.D., Van Riper says that the ideal for her would be “some sort of combination of teaching and research, as a professor, an adjunct, a postdoc or even industry bioinformatician. There are a number of ways to make it work, but my preference is to stay in academia in or near the Twin Cities.” She enjoys the sense of satisfaction that she gets from teaching, “there is that moment when the lights go on and you can see that the students get it. It’s especially rewarding in a field that is abstract as computer science.”
Right now, she finds that academia fits her personality. She sets her own schedule. As she puts it, “I can work 80 hours a week however I want.” She adds, “But you have to feel passionate about it. It’s rewarding, and I’m happy doing this work.”