As a pathology resident at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, Ellen King feels like she is living out her destiny. As a child she found herself drawn to what seemed like two diverse interests: life science and computers.
When her father, an engineer who fostered her interest in analytical thinking, introduced her to the emerging field of bioinformatics, she was thrilled with the prospect of making it her career path.
"I loved computer science, and I loved science," King says. "When my father told me what bioinformatics was about, I was excited. Those were the two things I've always loved and didn't want to choose between. It's what I wanted to do all along."
Discovering that Baylor had an undergraduate program that fit her interests so well made her college choice an easy one. In 2005, King became one of the first to graduate from Baylor with its newly established bioinformatics degree.
From Baylor, she went on to UT Southwestern for medical school, spent a year doing bioinformatics research in a drug discovery program, and is now a resident in pathology.
"I feel like I've been being taught forever," King laughs. "Far and away the best experience I've had has been at Baylor. The education I got there was phenomenal."
The McKinney, Texas, native said she had the opportunity to meet the founder of pathology informatics during her time in medical school. He was impressed by the amount of knowledge she took away from her undergraduate experience.
"He told me, ‘I've never met anyone like you, who's been prepared like you.' I owe all that to Baylor," King says. "I know it will serve me well into the future."
Already, King has found that her background in bioinformatics has set her apart from her peers.
"No one has this skill set, especially in medicine," she says. "Since few people have this background, it is hard for the various people to communicate sometimes. It feels almost like they (computer science and medicine) are two different languages, and that I can translate for them."
King uses the example of how banks integrated computers into everyday operations to make things easier and more efficient.
"Computers in banking helped to make banking safer and faster. They moved their data to computers to help the numbers make sense," she says. "The medical community is behind. We still use physical slides and paper. Imagine how much better patient care we would have if we were using more technology to help manage the data. That is what pathology informatics is. There is too much data in science to not use computers to make sense of it."
"You need the dual knowledge," she says. "We know the code for tens of thousands of genes, but you can't use computers to organize that information if you don't know what a gene is."
The field, she admits, isn't for everyone. There remains a need for people on both sides of the equation. King sees herself as an essential bridge between the two worlds.
"You have to enjoy it, because sometimes it is tricky," she says. "It feels like you're using different parts of your brain. Science can be vague and computer science isn't. What I learned at Baylor was how to put them together."