By Justin Farris

Inside Phosphorus: The 2017 Phosphorus Internship Program

This summer 2017, Phosphorus hosted 5 bright interns as part of its inaugural Summer Internship Program. Throughout the program’s duration, the full-time upperclassmen undergraduate students worked closely with all departments of the company, taking ownership of entire projects from conception to implementation. They experienced firsthand the collaboration and cross-functional team environment that not only defines many startups, but also helps to drive our industry forward to improve healthcare. Our interns were each aligned with a specific department of the company, but were encouraged to get involved with various divisions, including R&D, Engineering, Marketing, Product, and more.

To get our interns’ impressions of life at a startup, the type of work involved, and their thoughts about Phosphorus’ mission to improve health outcomes with genomics, we interviewed each of them and have included select answers below. (If you are interested in applying to the 2018 Phosphorus Internship Program, visit the Careers page of our website, here, where you can learn more about intern responsibilities, benefits, and requirements.)

Hi there; tell us a little bit about yourself!

Manisha: Hi! I’m from Atlantic City, NJ, but my parents are from India. Growing up in a very diverse part of New Jersey has helped me to appreciate the different perspectives that different identities bring to the table. I’m not sure what I want to do when I “grow up,” but I think that after graduation I want to work in the biotech industry for a few years before going to grad school or business school. Maybe someday I’ll start my own biotech company!

Currently, I am a rising junior at Princeton University, where I’m majoring in Chemical and Biological Engineering. I am also pursuing two minors: Applied and Computational Mathematics, and Engineering Management Systems. I am interning with the Research and
Development (R&D) team at Phosphorus, where my focus is bioinformatics.

Agustin: I was born in New Jersey but my family is from Argentina. I have always been interested in the intersection between science and business. I like to think of myself as a positive, optimistic person. I am super passionate about entrepreneurship and aspire to be a renaissance man. I am a rising senior at Princeton University majoring in Molecular Biology and a certificate in Engineering Biology. While interning at Phosphorus, I am a part of the R&D team.

David: My mom and dad are from Beijing and the Shandong Province in China respectively. They moved to the USA for grad school in the 1990s. I was born in NJ and have lived there my entire life. I am a rising junior at Princeton University majoring in Computer Science and minoring in Computational Biology, and Statistics and Machine Learning.

On campus, I cofounded the Princeton University Science Olympiad Invitational tournament, an annual competition that hosts over 600 top high school students. I also co-direct the biannual HackPrinceton, which is a hackathon that hosts over 1200 people per year. Last summer, I did bioinformatics research at Harvard Medical School and MIT through the HST program and worked on developing scalable data visualization tools for analyzing insurance claims data, as well as a web tool for in-the-browser single cell transcriptomics analysis (preprint available on bioRxiv).

Post-graduation I hope to earn a PhD in either computer science or bioinformatics and try to make a contribution in the field of precision medicine. I am currently interning with the engineering team at Phosphorus.

Maria: Hi, I’m Maria! I was born in Brooklyn and have since then lived in 3 out of the 5 New York City boroughs. My parents are from Ukraine, and I grew up fully immersed in the culture, from going to Ukrainian school to taking Ukrainian dance classes. I love being spontaneous and never knowing where the day will take me, so I think I’m a lot of fun. My mom does too.

I’m a rising junior at Princeton University and am majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I’m interning with the Marketing department at Phosphorus, though my role has grown to encompass Product Development generally.

Brian: Hi I’m Brian! I originally hailed from Syosset, New York in Long Island, but I currently live in East Village here in NYC for the summer. You can normally catch me travelling to random food places, hanging around SOHO/Washington Square Park or K-Town, or meeting up with friends/new people. I go to school at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and I am majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Entrepreneurship and Management. I am interning with the Engineering department at Phosphorus as a software engineering intern.

What have you learned from working at Phosphorus?

Manisha: After working here for many weeks and seeing what each person contributes to Phosphorus, from those on the product team to those on the software team, I’ve come to realize that smaller companies like Phosphorus allow all individuals to make a large impact on the company’s future, which is very exciting. Just like how if a certain gear stops working the whole machine may stop working, each individual at Phosphorus has a lot of responsibilities to fulfill (and as a result, a lot of hard work) to keep the team strong. I think the combination of individuality and teamwork at Phosphorus encourages people from across different departments to learn about the various operations of the company. In short, I’ve learned that startup culture is really cool.

David: I’ve learned about how the power of modern software and computational techniques can be leveraged to tackle complex problems in medicine and healthcare, as well as how there exists a niche for SaaS in the clinical genomics space. I’ve also learned about what it’s like working as part of a startup engineering team.

Maria: I am currently working on filling out a spreadsheet with information on ~4,000 hospitals and now feel like I know everything about the hospitals in America. A few have hard-to-navigate websites, which has definitely improved my sleuthing skills. Fun fact: 324 of America’s hospitals contain the word “Memorial” and 377 contain the world “Regional”. It can get confusing.

Brian: I definitely learned so much in terms of software engineering. Before coming to Phosphorus, the extent of coding I had done was limited to just school projects, hackathon projects, and a mobile app I was doing on the side. During my internship, I expanded my stack and learned the various frameworks used at Phosphorus, such as Spring Hibernate and Wicket. From looking over various code in the management portal and my projects, as well as the resources available here, I learned how to be a better software engineer and how important it is to really implement good coding practices, such as not repeating code. This internship has opened my eyes to the complexity of handling an entire software from back to front.

What has been your favorite project?

Manisha: My favorite project has definitely been working with fertility data. This project involved using Python and various genome analysis tools to identify genetic variants that cause infertility in women.

Agustin: During my time here I focused on developing the neuro panel. I searched through a set of genes and helped determine which ones should be included in the new product based on prevalence and penetrance. After obtaining this information, I searched the corresponding chromosomal location that specified where in the genome the given genes were located. With this information, I ended up creating a detailed database that specifies the different locations and characteristics of the diseases associated with the genes. Furthermore, I began developing some added information from GWAS (genome-wide association study) variants for the given neurological diseases.

David: I’ve worked on a bunch of small features, but they mostly relate to implementing distributor preference scoping. On the management portal, distributors should be able to set certain variables (like UI colors/fonts, preferences for viewing testing results, etc) and have them cascade down to individual clinics and patients. Individual clinics and patients should however be able to override some of these preferences without affecting other people in the same permission group. I spent a lot of time on increasing UI customizability as well as figuring out how to support multiple elastic load balancers and SSL certificates on AWS Amazon Web Services Cloudformation. This project was a good introduction to Phosphorus’ massive codebase and helped me see how everything integrates together.

Maria: Recently, I began helping with the inbound marketing at Phosphorus, and came up with a social media plan, which was really fun. At one point I was entrusted with our Twitter login credentials. I had always wondered what the Twitter dashboard of a genetic testing company would look like. The first thing I saw was an image of Game of Thrones’ very own dragon queen with double helixes in her hair and the caption “DNAerys”. That’s when I realized that my Twitter dashboard would never be as cool as Phosphorus’s dashboard.

Brian: My favorite project at Phosphorus has been anything to deal with distributor preference/theme scoping. This first started with finding ways to compile less code into CSS on the management portal itself as a way to handle distributors who want their own themes in the future. After working on this project, including the frontend aspects of it, I was able to also create a model for a distributor preference, as well as service and repository files for it.

Do you have a personal mantra?

Manisha: My personal mantra is “Think like a kid”. Most people think that they are smart because they have learned knowledge and skills, but without the ability to think critically, the knowledge and skills do not hold much value. People also construct rigid boundaries to limit possibilities to practicalities, which I believe inhibits creative thinking in many settings. Thinking like a kid would – learning for the sake of applying (rather than only acquiring) knowledge, and exploring beyond the realm of possibilities – is something that has improved my thinking process and encouraged my mind to grow.

Agustin: Happiness and ambition coupled with hard work results in success.

David: Every day is a blessing. I try not to take anything for granted.

Maria: Whenever I make a decision and am being too risk-averse, I always tell myself “live your best life”. Not everyone has the same opportunities as you do, and you never know what you will regret not doing. So go ahead and order that extra cheese on your pizza!

Brian: I believe every experience, bad or good, is a blessing in disguise. For me, it’s all about learning to take advantage of any of these experiences as much as possible and learn from them – even if it means drastically getting out of the comfort zone. You may learn something about yourself you never knew or meet someone special. It is important to just keep an open mind and always be open to the input and advice from those close to you. At the end of the day, as long as you have some form of personal growth, an experience is never that bad.

What did you enjoy the most about your internship?

Manisha: I really enjoyed the company off-site. While working beside interns who work in different departments (and learning about the work their teams do), the many Lunch-and-Learns, and several meetings have exposed me to various aspects of the Phosphorus, the company off-site allowed me to truly get a sense of how far Phosphorus had come along in only a year, and how far it was setting its sights for the future. The off-site, at least for me, symbolized the hard-working and collaborative nature of the Phosphorus team, and as someone who is interested in potentially starting her own company in the future, the off-site (or rather what it symbolized) was incredibly inspiring.

Agustin: I loved the atmosphere, team, and company. It was great to work in such a comfortable environment. During these 10 weeks, I learned a great deal about myself and the startup world as well as what it takes to start a company and how to position myself in the future to do so.

David: I enjoyed seeing all aspects of the Agile development process in action as well as working with some very capable and passionate engineers and scientists at Phosphorus.

Maria: Talking to the full-time employees and learning about their background/what they do at Phosphorus has definitely been one of the best parts of this internship. Everyone who works at Phosphorus is incredibly intelligent and hard-working. I have been able to ask some people about general career advice and have learned a lot about myself and what I want to do in the future.

Brian: I definitely enjoyed the atmosphere and the people I work with. I was able to see the whole start-up culture from day one, like the office moving to a new location the first week I was here and the relatively small but intimate environment. Everyone was very approachable and it was easy to talk about a lot of interesting topics, not necessarily work related, with anyone here. I felt very comfortable and motivated to work on a daily basis. Given this is my first real internship, I had an experience I will never forget and has made me much more passionate about software and the tech startup scene.

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