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Meet our alumni: Sara Dutta


Blue graphic with mortar boards and the words Meet our Alumni

A DPhil in Computational Biology who has gone on to work with the FDA and pharmaceutical and medical device companies talks about her time studying at Oxford. 

What course did you study here and when?  

DPhil in Computational Biology (DTC Systems Biology 2009) 2010-2014. 

What was your background before that?  

I studied Computer Science BEng at Imperial College London and I did my high school at the Lycée François Premier in Fontainebleau (France) where I grew up.  

What attracted you to studying Computer Science as a subject? 

I always enjoyed mathematics and logic at school and I was fascinated by how it could be applied in Computer Science to build algorithms that could solve amazing problems.  

What aspects of the course you studied here did you particularly enjoy?  

I particularly enjoyed interacting and learning from my colleagues in the department, such as during the student departmental conference and having the opportunity to be a demonstrator and tutor during some undergraduate courses. Most importantly my team under Professor Blanca Rodriguez was a great source of support, fun and knowledge.  

What did you enjoy about life at Oxford?  

I really valued interacting with friends and peers from other subjects. Balliol MCR dinner parties were a source of exchange and fun as we were a diverse group of PhD students from a range of subjects from Physics, Computer Science, Philosophy, Literature and Economics. I also enjoyed that there were always fascinating talks, conferences, concerts and other events that were easily accessible. At times it was intimidating, but mostly I was just fascinated by all professors and students around me, and tried to learn from them as much as possible. I have particularly fond memories of being part of the organising committee for the Balliol’s 750th Commemoration Ball and rowing for Balliol during Torpids and Summer Eights.  

What did you do when you left Oxford? 

I went to work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the Washington D.C. (to be precise, Silver Spring MD) where I investigated how computational models of the heart could be incorporated in the FDA drug approval process to improve prediction of lethal arrhythmias. I worked there for 3 years and then moved to Boston over a year ago to work for Dassault Systèmes (the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform company) where I help pharmaceutical and medical device companies embrace digital transformation throughout their lifecycle, one of the main ways being through modelling and simulation.  

How has the course you studied here helped you in your current profession?  

The work I did at Oxford has really helped lay strong foundations for all the work I have done since then. All the technical knowledge I learnt during my PhD has been directly applied during my research work at the FDA and now I use that technical expertise to help demonstrate the business value of such tools to our life sciences companies. I also have kept close ties with my team from Oxford throughout and they have always been a great source of support throughout my time at the FDA and in my current job.  

What advice would you give to current students on applying their knowledge in the workplace, when they leave university?  

Computer Science gives you a great set of analytical and logical skills that can be applied to virtually any field. Don’t be scared to try areas a little out of your comfort zone or that seem a little too ambitious. My 18-year-old self would have never thought that computational modeling of the heart existed and was something she would make a career out of.  

If we went back in time and asked, what would the student you have thought about what you are currently doing – would you have been surprised, proud, amazed?  

I think I would have been impressed and I would have found it hard to believe that there are so many opportunities to continue to learn and apply my knowledge outside of the traditional academic route. I really believe you can forge your own path and be surprised at where it takes you.