Career Interview: Niall J. Lennon, PhD

Photo courtesy of Niall J. Lennon, PhD

Senior Director of Translational Genomics, Broad Institute (Genomics Platform)

ASHG: How have interdisciplinary approaches benefited your work?

Dr. Lennon: I have found that what I assumed to be a completely unrelated set of interests in photography and graphic design, are actually very helpful for my day-to-day job. Specifically, the ability to communicate complex concepts/workflows/technologies using images or other visualization methods is extremely useful when working with a multidisciplinary group of biologists, technologists, engineers, and computational biologists.

ASHG: What advice would you give your trainee-self?

Dr. Lennon: If I were to wind the clock back to when I was a graduate student or postdoc, I would probably put more time into building a solid foundation in bioinformatics methods and coding. I spent most of my time focused on biology and wet bench work, which was fine, but my job today is far less dependent on my ability to pipette than it is on understanding the pros and cons of various variant calling algorithms and software architectures.

I would also probably encourage my former self to look up from the bench every now and then and get better at networking.

ASHG: Tell us about your first few positions.

Dr. Lennon: I did not know what I wanted to do when I finished grad school. The science funding scene in Ireland (where I got my PhD) was fairly bleak at the time, so I had pretty much decided not to do a postdoc. Then I saw an ad in Nature magazine (yes, the print version) for a position at a big neuromuscular lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. I applied, interviewed, and landed a job, much to my surprise.

The next four years were a great learning experience and exposed me to a wide variety of science and scientists. During that time I also realized I wasn’t particularly interested in the traditional academic, tenure-track route. I heard about the, then newly formed, Broad Institute from a friend who worked there and thought it sounded like a really interesting model for team-based science. I applied for a job and got a Research Scientist position within the Sequencing group.

That was ten years ago, and I can honestly say I have enjoyed pretty much every day I have worked here since then.

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