Dunbar is first Meharry SACS graduate

data science academics and research
Zerick Dunbar

Zerick Dunbar, a Ph.D. candidate in immunology at Meharry Medical College, is the first graduate of the School of Applied Computational Sciences. He completed the Biomedical Data Science Graduate Certificate in May 2022.

“It is a joy to celebrate Zerick as our first graduate,” says Dr. T.L. Wallace, chair, Biomedical Data Science Department. “Our faculty praise his performance in the classroom, and he is already applying his data skills to his doctoral work. I am confident this expertise will help him pursue his professional goals in science.”

Dunbar started the certificate program in the Fall 2022 semester as part of the first cohort for Meharry SACS. In addition to pure interest in biomedical data science, he wanted to learn new skills and further develop others in an area that will be important to science in the future.

“The landscape of science, especially in industry, is becoming increasingly more interdisciplinary, multi-functional, and teamwork oriented. Data science connects to all those characteristics. I think being able to understand and communicate data science will be valuable as a professional moving forward,” says Dunbar.

The course schedule includes three, three-credit hour courses in the fall and spring semester, allowing him to complete the certificate within one academic year. Dunbar relied on his strong management skills to balance the program with his busy lab schedule. He also communicated well with the principal investigator for his doctorate, Dr. Anil Shanker, senior vice president for research and innovation, and his Meharry SACS professors.

“I was upfront with my PI, Dr. Shanker, beforehand about how long the certificate program would take, and how it could impact my day-to-day time in the lab. I also expressed that I would do my best to curtail the impact,” says Dunbar. “I was also upfront with my SACS professors, when necessary, about my priorities and time commitments to my Ph.D. work.”

He also credits his working professional classmates who were helpful in group projects throughout the program.

“Collaborating with classmates like Shara Taylor and Wajehah Sanders, who are just as busy as I am, made the workload more manageable,” says Dunbar.

Dunbar’s biomedical data science education is already contributing to his Ph.D. studies.

“I have been applying my acquired learning in data analysis, data visualization, and choosing appropriate statistical methods to the data I have generated during my Ph.D. studies,” says Dunbar. “I hope to include a statistical model of experimental data in my first author manuscript as well.”

Looking further, Dunbar intends to have a successful career in biomedical research and development that begins in the biotechnology industry with a focus on immunological applications to medicine.

“Overall, the goal for me is to utilize my education, acquired skills, and networks to tackle challenges and positively impact various communities, including underrepresented communities like my own,” says Dunbar.

The Biomedical Data Science Graduate Certificate will play an important role in achieving those goals.

“Earning the biomedical data science graduate certificate adds more advanced tools to my toolbox, and allows me to have a basic, fundamental understanding of programming skills, and communication of data science,” says Dunbar. “The ability to understand and communicate data science alone opens doors professionally for working with different projects and people across scientific disciplines.”

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