Georgia Tech’s initiatives in bio-inspired solutions to problems drew this outstanding student to Atlanta
Sarthak Sharma hails from the small city of Meerut, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in India. After going to school there, he moved to the state of Assam to pursue a Bachelor of Technology degree in Biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati.
As an undergraduate student, and using computational approaches, Sarthak worked on the evolution of CRISPR-Cas systems. These systems form the innate immune systems in bacteria. “It was here that I learned about molecular biology and bioinformatics,” Sarthak says.
In IIT Guwahati, Sarthak joined the robotics club, participating in various intercollegiate robotics events. He also played for the institute's football club.
In his second-year at IIT Guwahati, Sarthak came across a piece of news: Georgia Tech researchers had combined biology and machine learning to seek biology-inspired—bio-inspired—solutions to various problems.
“This single article drove me to research various courses at Georgia Tech,” Sarthak says. “I found that the bioinformatics program at Georgia Tech was flexible and highly computation-oriented. It was perfect for someone like me—interested in computer science and biology. Not only was I impressed, I was inspired to join Georgia Tech.”
Sarthak started the Master of Science program in Bioinformatics in August 2017. In early 2018, he received the J. Leland Jackson Fellowship in Bioinformatics for the outstanding master’s student in the program.
For his research, Sarthak studied the nervous system of tunicates, “our closest living invertebrate relatives,” he says. His work resulted in first use of a technique called single-cell RNA sequencing to characterize the gene expression profiles of neurons in tunicates.
Sarthak has been working with Alberto Stolfi, an assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences and a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. “Sarthak’s accomplishments speak for themselves,” Stolfi says. “He so quickly and fundamentally elevated the research in the lab in such a short time. In addition, Sarthak is a courteous, kind, and mature student. Mentoring him has been a joyous experience.”
Sarthak graduates with a Master of Science in Bioinformatics.
What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?
The most important thing I learned at Georgia Tech is management—managing multiple projects simultaneously, managing stress, managing group work, and managing time.
I was aware that Georgia Tech is a tough school. I was also certain that it would be an enriching, albeit challenging, experience.
Georgia Tech met my expectations and then some! Instructions are excellent and instructors are very approachable. They are willing to attend to your problems almost anytime. Everyone at Tech is willing to give their time to you if you are interested in learning.
What are your proudest achievements at Georgia Tech?
Within one year, I submitted a paper as first author in the peer-reviewed journal Developmental Biology, and I received the Outstanding (Master’s) Bioinformatics Student Award. I am proud of these achievements because working on publishing a paper while taking difficult courses and maintaining a GPA of 4.0 was really challenging.
Which professor(s) or class(es) made a big impact on you?
Dr. Alberto Stolfi has been my research guide and mentor ever since I came to Georgia Tech. I was the first student in his lab. He has been a perfect leader for me. He clearly stated his research goals and his expectations of me. And then he gave me utmost freedom to deliver results.
Not only has he been understanding throughout, but he has also been extremely supportive of my career choices and aspirations. If ever I hold a leadership position anywhere in life, I hope I can be half as good a leader as he has been for me.
What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?
I witnessed the first snowfall of my life at Georgia Tech. I was in Dr. Stolfi's office. We were discussing some project when he abruptly pointed toward his office window. It was snowing! We quickly finished the discussion, and I left for home early.
I walked in the falling snow for more than a mile, slipping almost five times on the way. In the evening, when the entire campus was covered in snow, I got together with a few friends and made my first snowman.
It's still as clear in my memory as if it happened only yesterday. It was a special day. Although I fell ill the next day, it was all worth it!
In what ways did your time at Georgia Tech transform your life?
I have made significant contributions to various projects, developed skills that I had never even imagined, and evolved work ethics that had seemed impossible to me.
Georgia Tech drove me to push myself and get out of my comfort zone. I am a very different person today from who I was before attending Georgia Tech.
What unique learning activities did you undertake?
I took a special-problems course to do research alongside my studies. This enabled me to apply my classroom learning to real-world problems and to devise new methods and tools for answering intriguing questions.
What advice would you give to incoming graduate students at Georgia Tech?
Manage your time. Otherwise, you will be in a sea of problems.
Do not take anything for granted, especially your health. At times, you'll have deadlines, exams, and presentations in a single week. Make sure you give yourself enough time and space to unwind. It’s not always be possible, but do the best you can.
Challenge yourself by taking a tough course, if you find one that interests you, without worrying about the grade. You might never get the opportunity to study those subjects again.
Where are you headed after graduation?
I will not immediately go for a Ph.D. I’m looking for a bioinformatics software engineer position.
Georgia Tech stresses ethical behavior in the workplace. These principles will guide me in making tough decisions.
Georgia Tech has equipped me with a unique combination of technical and soft skills. My experience at Georgia Tech has made me capable of handling multiple projects simultaneously and work efficiently in both collaborative and independent work settings.