By Justin Farris

Inside Phosphorus: Meet Mohammad, Data Scientist!

Hey Mohammad, tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hey, good to see you! I am originally from Tehran, Iran. I moved to the US in early 2014 to complete two years of postdoctoral research at the University of California, before joining Phosphorus in May 2016. My first degree, my bachelor’s, was in electronics. After getting this first degree, I worked at a small startup company where I was involved in circuit design, microcontroller programming and automation. While at this company, I helped create an intelligent device that automatically operates the clutch in a manual car while the driver is shifting gears, so that the driver has one less thing to think about. It is great to see that this product we designed and prototyped from scratch in our team of four people is now getting major TV commercials and is under mass production of hundreds of thousands. Next, I got my master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Sharif University of Technology, and immediately prior to coming to the US, I lived in France for a few years, where I completed my PhD in electrical engineering at Joseph Fourier University, focusing on signal processing.

What is your title at Phosphorus? What do you do for the company?

My job title is Data Scientist. My role is to meet challenges we have in improving our current outputs or developing new methods. I am mainly involved in two types of projects: DNA sequencing data analysis for detecting DNA abnormalities, and machine learning and statistical analysis on numerical data. When I started at Phosphorus, I had no experience in DNA sequencing data analysis, but I had a good background in statistics and machine learning.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The ultimate mission of our company and work, to better understand and harness the power of the human genome, is what I enjoy most about my job. I am very glad that what we do at this company will have a real positive impact on people’s health, rather than creating a false need to sell a product.

What have you learned from working at Phosphorus?

I have learned so much that it is hard to narrow down. I have learned about human genetics and how genetic diseases may occur. I started Python programming at Phosphorus, which has been a cool experience after programming in Matlab for many years. I’ve also learned about complexity of data acquisition in genetics and the trends in this area. Besides these technical aspects, I’ve enriched my experience in working with people from different academic and cultural backgrounds.

What has been your favorite project so far?

I have had two favorite projects. The first one was optimizing a method for copy number detection of Survival of Motor Neuron (SMN). Before this development, we had to use a package that was a black box to us and its performance was not great. The new method is significantly more accurate and it is more cost effective. The second project, which is still ongoing, is development of a model to predict the probability of success of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Since this is a common treatment, several groups have worked on it. This project requires extensive work on statistical and machine learning methods.

Do you have a personal mantra?

It depends on the context. If you mean something general for life, my mantra, which is somehow derived from Persian poems, is that the biggest loser is someone who is incapable of falling in love (this love is not limited to the love between couples). If you mean something related to data science, I would point you to what Leonardo da Vinci said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Tell us something about you most people don’t know.

I have four valid driver licenses but I have not had my own car, as every time I decided to buy one, something came up in the last minute. Living in New York does not help either!

What is one thing you are looking forward to in your free time this next year?

Visiting new places in North America and exploring New York and the surrounding areas.

Do you have any hobbies?

I enjoy traveling and discovering new places and cultures. I’m also interested in learning languages, as I think each language can open a new door to the world and reflect how the world has been perceived by that population. I love reading books and listening to lectures/podcasts in a wide variety of topics. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on Western philosophy (both analytical and continental) since I was in college and I still enjoy it a lot, even if philosophy is not usually considered as a hobby! I am also a big fan of poetry. I often read poems and their explanations, especially from our great Persian poets including Rumi, Hafez, Khayyam, etc. I may overuse their poems when I have a regular conversation in Farsi.

Which ice cream flavor best describes you?

Pistachio or lemon.

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