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Andrew E. Brereton

Computational Scientist
Andrew Brereton travaillant à l'ordinateur
Andrew Brereton travaillant à l'ordinateur
Location Born
Location Now
Education Pathway

I write code that teaches computers how to design new drugs.

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Nova Scotia, but grew up in Parry Sound, Ontario.

I now live in: I now live in Barrie, Ontario, and work remotely for a company headquartered in Toronto.

I completed my training/education at: I completed my Undergrad at University of Guelph in Molecular Biology and Genetics, followed by PhD at Oregon State University in Biochemistry and Biophysics

What I do at work

I work now at a company called Cyclica. We are a biotechnology company that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help make medicines that are more effective for patients. I do research and develop methods for computational drug design. Simply put, I write code that teaches computers how to design new drugs.

There are 7 main types of work that I do:

  1. Programming/coding. This is when I am writing new methods to solve problems. Sometimes this means improving existing methods, or even just combining existing methods in new ways. For example, I recently developed a new machine learning approach for predicting the properties of small molecules, called POEM.
  2. Meetings. Every day I attend meetings with my coworkers. Some are educational where we present to each other on various topics. Sometimes these are topics we are sharing for their benefit. At other times, we are presenting on our work so we can get their input. Some meetings are focused on planning. Some are just for fun. Sometimes, I have to meet with our external partners or clients, usually to explain our science to them.
  3. Thinking. I spend a lot of time procrastinating, or "wasting" time J. This is important. Much of what I do requires creative problem solving, and I believe this is something that can't be forced. You owe it to yourself to keep your stress low and give your brain room to come up with ideas. Sometimes this means you need to take a step back and let things work in the background.
  4. Planning. Each month I will either start a new project, or continue an existing project. This requires that I plan what I intend to accomplish, and what I will need that month in order to succeed. I have to communicate these needs and expectations with my boss and the rest of my team. Planning helps us all work together well, and make sure no one is disappointed. It also helps me to stay focused and finish my tasks. Often, I will plan my large coding projects by using markers to color in an outline on a big sheet of paper.
  5. Writing. This includes writing scientific papers for publication, as well as writing the occasional blog post or opinion piece. Sometimes this is for my own reasons. Sometimes I am asked to share my opinions by my company.
  6. Cleaning/Maintaining. All good things require hard work to keep them working, and my job is no different. Code needs to be maintained (kept organized and clean/clear). I also need to do my share of reviewing other people's code (just as they review mine). In this way, help my coworkers flesh out their own ideas. It can be boring but you can't neglect these cleaning tasks for too long. If you do, everything else becomes much more difficult.
  7. Outreach. Sometimes I am tasked with volunteering with educational outreach opportunities, like hackathons or conferences. This is always optional but I like it. I think it's important to pass along the things I have learned, so that the next generation can come up with even crazier ideas than I did.

My career path is

When I was younger, I wanted to study "DNA" because I wanted to create new animals. I always enjoyed messing around with computers and tech. But, never had any classes at my high school in Parry Sound. I just always followed my own interests, and did the things that motivated me. I figured that eventually I would have skills that would be marketable. The way I saw it: worst case, I would end up skilled at doing things that weren't worth much money, but made me happy anyway. Best case, I would enjoy the things I do AND get money for them. This panned out, and I would recommend it. Just follow your interests and stand up for what you believe in. Half the jobs today didn't even exist 10 years ago. Who can predict what skills will be important or valuable 10 years from now?

I am motivated by

I like solving problems. I really like understanding mysteries. I am comfortable with ambiguity, and find it really satisfying to discover something unexpected. This is pretty much my main motivation. There are so many open questions in science, and in my career, I have ended up working on one. I could just as well have worked on any other, because they are all interesting. Working in industry, I also get more freedom in my day to day to solve these problems. I can't just do whatever I want. However, I do have a LOT of input in the projects that I pursue, and how I pursue them. At my company, I enjoy this freedom. They also pay me well (after fighting for it, always stand up for yourself), which has allowed me stability and freedom in my personal life.

How I affect peoples’ lives

The main reason we care about developing AI/Machine Learning tools for drug design is two-fold. The first is to reduce the likelihood of dangerous side-effects from medications. The second is to reduce the time and cost of developing new drugs. This means that more people can afford to create drugs. This includes drugs for diseases that wouldn't otherwise be able to be treated. For example, because of the cost involved, drugs do not usually get made to treat rare diseases. Our work lowers the cost.

Outside of work I

I enjoy the following activities: 1. Video games 2. Rock climbing (when there isn't a pandemic) 3. Reading sci-fi novels

My advice to others

Don't pay too much attention to what old people in positions of authority tell you. Be honest with yourself and with others. But also be kind. Learn from your own mistakes. Find support networks and build communities. Never hesitate to ask a "dumb" question. If you think you'll sound dumb asking it, imagine how much worse it will be when you make a mistake and everyone learns you didn't know AND didn't ask. Learn, and follow your interests.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Literature and Language arts
  • Science
  • Computer Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
  • Liked reading
  • Never wanted to be in the classroom
  • Played video games
  • Didn't really care about grades
  • Learned best “by doing"

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