Mentorship has played a key role in Brandon Ginley’s path in the doctoral program in computational cell biology, anatomy and pathology.
While working on his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at UB, Ginley was also working as an emergency medical technician (EMT) on an ambulance.
“I was both driving the ambulance and treating patients in emergency settings in the field, but around my junior year I decided I did not want to continue working as an EMT because the job is extremely stressful and burns you out very quickly.”
He decided to look into research opportunities through UB’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, and when he navigated to its website the first thing he saw was a notice about the lab of Pinaki Sarder, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences.
“The lab had just been founded, and Dr. Sarder did not even have a single student working for him yet. The topics covered on his research opportunity page matched a recent class I had taken on machine learning and pattern recognition, and I thought machine learning was very cool,” Ginley says.
After meeting with Sarder, Ginley ended up working in his lab for a year or so, where he was offered the opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree in computational cell biology, anatomy and pathology.
Ginley says he is appreciative of all of the mentors he has been able to work with thus far. Besides Sarder, they include John E. Tomaszewski, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Professor and Chair of pathology and anatomical sciences; Brahm H. Segal, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases; and Kuang-Yu Jen, MD, PhD, of the University of California, Davis.
“I like to equate working with research mentors like having a coach on a sports team. The goal of your coach is not to be your friend — their job is to identify your potential and push you to the limits of your potential,” he says.
“Having worked with these mentors for a number of years now, I really feel I am exceptionally more intelligent and productive than when I started my degree, and these benefits extend beyond the research world to help me be considerably more critical in my everyday life and approach problems more constructively.”
Ginley says he especially appreciates that his main mentor, Sarder, is “relentless, in a good way.”
“He dedicates a huge portion of his life to make sure his students are achieving their maximum potential. It is totally a regular occurrence to get emails from him at 3 a.m. because he has not stopped working all day,” Ginley says.
“What I particularly like about Dr. Sarder — and it comes back to the coaching analogy — is that he will not let feelings get in the way of good research and student growth,” he says.
“Sometimes pursuing a doctoral degree can feel extremely difficult and frustrating, especially when you have not been able to solve a problem for a long period of time or you have to repeat an entire set of analysis that was performed incorrectly,” Ginley notes.
“Dr. Sarder does a really good job of managing student frustration and helping them learn how to organize their life to be maximally productive and efficient, even when they get mad or upset,” he adds.
Ginley says he also admires Sarder because “he is ruthless in his pursuit of science and is always dedicated to getting the most truthful answer we can out of our data.”
“There should never be shortcuts in research, because the information will be shared with the larger community and direct how future people in the community will conduct their own research,” he says. “We have an obligation to make sure all analysis is as squeaky clean as we can humanly make it.”
Ginley has been involved in developing artificial intelligence strategies to detect renal disease and says the Multispectral Imaging Suite and Histology Core at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are critical to the work he does.
“I thank them for their hard work and rigor in producing the data that flows into our lab,” he says. “The computational resources at UB’s Center for Computational Research are also invaluable because our lab is entirely computationally based.”
Ginley says his current career goal is to create a startup that performs the computational analysis he is doing now for research but that can also provide the algorithms to hospitals and clinics to improve patient quality of care.
“I am working on this concurrently while I finish my thesis. UB offers a wide variety of help on this subject such as grants, the I-Corps Site Program, legal help and consultancy with UB teams like the Technology Transfer Office,” he says. “These services are amazing and extremely helpful for getting a startup off the ground.”
“The high level of scientific rigor held by Drs. Sarder and Tomaszewski have allowed me to acquire the skills I need to make this business venture successful,” Ginley says.