Genomics in Action Celebrates Ten Years of Learning and Growing

Leslie Coonrod at the podium before blue graphic at Genomics and Action

Ten Years of Learning and Growing

Genomics in Action conference continues to connect Knight Campus Graduate Internship Program students, alumni, partners, and the scientific community

The tenth annual Genomics in Action conference drew more than 130 attendees to the Knight Campus, Feb. 1-2, along with an estimated 80 virtual participants. Presented by the Knight Campus Graduate Internship Program (KCGIP), the event lived up to its billing, as an opportunity for everyone — ranging from industry and academic leaders to current and former students — to learn and grow from each other.

Students in seminar room with one speaking into microphone

“The 10th year of the conference was all we could have hoped for,” said Leslie Coonrod, the director of the KCGIP Bioinformatics and Genomics Track.  “From the beginning, this conference was about facilitating connections: between students, alumni, partners, and the scientific community. We saw those connections in action this year.”

Genomics in Action is most closely tied to Bioinformatics and Genomics, one of five tracks in the KCGIP but is open to everyone. The event launched more than a decade ago as the Big Data Meeting and was marketed as “Big Opportunities with Big Data.” Lots has changed since then, and this year’s event provided an opportunity to look back and project forward into the future. 

On the opening day of the conference, Assistant Vice President Stacey Wagner recalled how the Bioinformatics and Genomics track was launched to provide students with skills to analyze next generation sequencing data. The skills were cutting-edge at the time and helped fulfill the needs of industry partners, a win-win for the workforce and for the trainee.

Genomics in Action took this process a step further, connecting students with industry, raising program awareness, reaching new partners and providing feedback that enabled the KCGIP curriculum to continue evolving. 

“It’s incredible to see the growth of our students put on display, and not just current students, but alumni as well,” 
Maxine Wren, KCGIP faculty member

“We were able to listen, and learn about what we should be teaching,” Wagner said. “Each meeting has been about bringing together the growing network of partners and alumni to hear about up-and-coming technology.”

Wagner charged this year’s conference attendees with thinking about what is coming next and how the field will evolve. 

The answer to that question came up throughout the two-day conference. Speakers addressed a shift toward multi-omic approaches, including embracing a combination of techniques, integration of multiple data types, and exploration of  high-impact applications — such as data-enabled development of materials to deliver muscle healing therapy and evaluation of  RNA biomarkers that evaluate clinical trial efficacy. 

Student standing before a scientific poster

Other new directions include rapid advances in mass spectrometry and DNA aptamer-based protein detection, which could pave the way for higher resolution spatial information and high throughput clinical assessment, respectively. Partnering and collaboration was another major theme, with speakers identifying themselves as “professional collaborators.” One example is research that pairs clinicians with computational researchers to achieve broader representation of health data to improve clinical outcomes and precision medicine, especially for underserved communities. 

Even with its focus on the cutting-edge, Genomics in Action is still all about the trainees. Current students showcased their work and skills during poster and networking sessions, which also provided prospective students with the chance to experience the KCGIP program firsthand. 

“It’s incredible to see the growth of our students put on display, and not just current students, but alumni as well,” said Maxine Wren, a KCGIP faculty member. “Genomics in Action gives the program and our partners a chance to celebrate the successes of our cohorts both present and past, while also creating opportunities for future collaborations.”

Alumni return to Genomics in Action as program partners, either supporting the event by attending, speaking, participating on a panel for prospective students, or in some cases, to hire their own interns. This year’s event drew 40 alumni attending in-person, including 2020 alumna Anastasiya Primolenna.

"Genomics in Action is my favorite time of the year,” Primolenna said. “We get to come together as (bioinformatics) enthusiasts to share insights, spark ideas, and weave connections that propel the field forward." 

Group of students throwing the O in front of Genomics in Action slide