University of Texas at Austin


Moncrief Fellow Takes Second Place in Major National Undergraduate Research Prize

Published Dec. 9, 2020

Research contributions in computational science and engineering are rarely awarded at undergraduate level. Even less so in the emerging field of computational biology.

However, 21-year-old Ishaani Khatri, a Computational Biology student at Brown University, and participant in the Oden Institute’s 2020 Moncrief Summer Internship group, was awarded second place at a competition held during the Annual Conference of the NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology at Northwestern University.

During her time at the Oden Institute Ishaani was advised by Dr. Song (Stephen) Yi, assistant professor of Oncology and Director of Bioinformatics at Dell Medical School and Oden Institute faculty affiliate.

“I was very excited to be matched with the lab of Dr. Yi,” she said.

Dr. Yi is a recognized expert in cancer systems biology and functional variomics/proteomics. Prior to joining UT Austin, Dr. Yi was a faculty member at one of the Oden Institute’s key research partners, MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Ms. Khatri took this opportunity to use her background in computational and quantitative biology and apply it to one of the Yi Lab’s key research priorities: understanding the networks-based effects of genetic mutations on the cellular mechanisms that underlie the cell. “I am very proud of my work with Dr. Stephen Yi's lab,” she said. “So when I heard about this competition, I believed it would be a great opportunity to showcase my research from UT Austin.

“I reached out to Dr. Yi, who was incredibly supportive and encouraging. His input and expertise strengthened my application tremendously. I really could not have done it without him.”

The Competition

This year the NSF-Simons Center for QBio Annual Conference hosted an undergraduate research prize competition. Applicants nationwide submitted abstracts related to Quantitative/Computational Biology. From these, the selection committee picked the top 5 finalists.

Ishaani was shortlisted for her video presentation entitled: “A novel systems biology and network model to predict mutational effect onprotein interactome networks in human disease.” She was awarded second place in the competition.

While not a UT Austin student herself, the research underpinning her presentation was funded and made possible through the Moncrief internship at the Oden Institute.

“I am so grateful to have been part of the Moncrief Fellowship and to have met with Dr. Yi this past summer,” she said. “Without the support of the Oden Institute and Dr. Yi's Lab, I would not have had the opportunity to receive this award! Thank you so much to the organizers of the Moncrief Fellowship for developing such an amazing summer experience and matching me to such a great lab.”

I especially want to thank Dr. Yi for all his support and guidance. He has been an exemplary mentor to me and everyone else in the lab. Throughout my research experience with him and during the competition, he offered me invaluable advice, which I will carry with me throughout my entire scientific career. He's showed me how to build and develop scientific collaborations, emphasized the importance of being confident and excited about my research, and given me pointers on how to improve my scientific writing. I could not have asked for a better and more supportive PI!