Eli Rodgers-Melnick

Now a scientist with DuPont Pioneer

Eli Rodgers-Melnick, Ph.D. was postdoctoral researcher at the Buckler Lab for Maize Genetics and Diversity at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Prior to arriving at Cornell, he studied the evolution of duplicated genes in poplar trees at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV, and played a major role in the assembly of the willow genome.  His current research focuses on developing methods for discovering rare, deleterious genetic variants that can hinder traditional crop improvement programs. In pursuit of these research goals, Eli spends most days writing Python code and deriving the mathematics behind new machine learning algorithms. He can also be found playing guitar and bass with Jeff Glaubitz in the Ithaca area.

 

Why I Became a Scientist

I think that all kids are scientists. They come into the world with a vague conception of how the world works and use experimentation and observation to update that conception. My methods have grown more refined over the years, but I’m still fundamentally motivated in the same way as any 2-year old. I simply never grew out of asking the “whys” and “hows” when confronted with something interesting. My current job lets me ask those questions for a living and allows me to combine all the job aspirations I had growing up.

I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and spent most of my free time running unsupervised through the woods. I was fascinated by the plants and animals that lived there and tried to learn all I could about how they lived. At the same time, I had a strong interest in computers and gradually taught myself how to program so I could create my own websites and games. I wanted to be a biologist or a paleontologist. I also wanted to make machines that could think (I was a fan of Star Trek TNG’s Data).  Most of what I wanted to know was not covered in the school curriculum, so I ended up learning the basis for most of my current job skills outside the classroom.

During college I started hearing about the growing importance of bioinformatics and computational biology.  I thought this emerging field might be a good way for me to combine my ongoing computer-programming hobby with my love of biology. Surprisingly, becoming a computational biologist let me fulfill all the other job requirements I had at age 10. Although I’m not a paleontologist, I do use molecular evolution to peer deep into the past. Although I don’t strictly work on artificial intelligence, I do work on inventing ways for machines to learn how genetic variation “codes” for differences among individuals in a species.  

As a member of the Buckler lab, I feel fortunate that I get to put all my nerdy hobbies to work on projects that have a direct impact on our world. However, on a day-to-day basis, I am happy I became a scientist because I enjoy the process of invention and crave the thrill of discovery *Cue Star Trek theme music*.