In his biotech lab in Stamford, Conn., Timmy O’Connell, Ph.D.’18, is laser-focused on his work—engineering a personalized cancer medicine platform so that cancer drugs can precisely treat each individual cancer patient. Although it is not the job he imagined for himself when he chose to pursue a pre-med degree at Boston University 20 years prior, as the senior scientist in the Department of Research Bioinformatics at Sema4 Genomics, Dr. O’Connell is pursuing his calling.
“When I was in college, my father passed away at age 47 from a very aggressive form of cancer. Although I had a clear vision of going to medical school at the time, it changed the course of my life and became a mission of mine to learn everything about what happened to him—how it happened and what I could do to prevent it from happening to others,” he explains. “I came to believe I could make a greater impact working in the field of cancer drug discovery as a scientist rather than treating individual patients as a physician.”
So, instead of applying to medical school, Dr. O’Connell earned his Master of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology from the Florida Institute of Technology, and worked in the biotech industry for seven years before applying to New York Medical College’s (NYMC) Graduate School of Basic Medical Science (GSBMS) where he would graduate with a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology in 2018.
During the 2018 commencement activities, Dr. O’Connell paid homage to his father by presenting the inaugural Bart O’Connell Excellence in Cancer Research Award, an award he established with the help of NYMC faculty. “It was a great honor to present the inaugural award during the 2018 commencement awards ceremony,” he says.
Here Dr. O’Connell describes his favorite aspect of working in the field of cancer drug discovery, and offers his advice to the current students:
Tell us about your current work? What is your favorite aspect of your role?
I am currently working at Sema4 Genomics, a biotechnology company located in Stamford, Conn. One focus of the company is to create a personalized cancer medicine platform in order to precisely treat each individual cancer patient. I am a senior scientist in the Department of Research Bioinformatics and my favorite aspect of this role is knowing that my research is directly influencing a physician’s decision-making process and helping cancer patients directly.
Any tips for the next generation of biotech researchers currently studying to enter this field?
Read the news about your particular area of interest. Tailor your skillset and degree to align with what interests you the most and what is trending. Biotech companies don’t necessarily have the flexibility to explore emerging areas, so you have the opportunity during your graduate studies to become an expert in a particular area and then bring that expertise to the company.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time as a student at NYMC?
One was when I had the great opportunity to give the student commencement speech at Carnegie Hall. It was a tremendous honor. I felt extremely humbled to have been selected and given the opportunity to speak about my father who’s passing from cancer inspired me to pursue a career in cancer research.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about scientific industry positions.