Dr. Dave Messina is the Chief Operating Officer at Cofactor Genomics. He completed his undergraduate training in biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and received his MA in Genetics from Washington University School of Medicine. Dave worked as a Senior Programmer Analyst at the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University for a few years before going back to school to get his PhD in Computational Biology from Stockholm University. Dave joined the team at Cofactor in 2012. Dave is here with us today to tell us all about his journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (02:04)
Outside of genomics, Dave’s passions include hiking and cruising the streets in old BMWs. He has been a fan of older cars, and particularly BMWs, since high school and is currently President of the St. Louis BMW Club.
The Scientific Side (02:55)
Dave and his colleagues use RNA to diagnose disease. Most people know about the importance of DNA as the blueprint for life, but they don’t consider how DNA is static and doesn’t change throughout our lives. As a result, DNA can only provide information about genetic risk to predict whether you may get a disease. However, with a dynamic molecule like RNA that is constantly changing, you can see signs of a disease process starting before your doctor may be able to detect it.
A Dose of Motivation (04:37)
One influential life lesson for Dave has been to always try to say yes instead of no. Also, he believes strongly in the importance of being nice and giving people the benefit of the doubt.
What Got You Hooked on Science? (08:08)
Dave was a curious kid who explored the world from an early age by turning over rocks in the backyard and examining samples under his microscope. Despite these early inclinations towards science, as a kid he never really considered becoming a scientist. In college, Dave started off majoring in political science and international affairs. This field didn’t really hold his interest though, and after a summer internship working with an inspiring scientist, Dave began pursuing biology. This laboratory experience changed his career trajectory and his life.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (20:10)
One major hiccup along Dave’s career path was when he didn’t get into graduate school the first year he applied. He only applied to two schools and was initially devastated by the rejections. Dave took a detour to work in a lab, and this gave him the advantages of more research experience, as well as a better understanding of the processes of applying to programs. Perseverance and enthusiasm were key for Dave in getting through this tough time.
A Shining Success! (22:50)
Cofactor Genomics is a relatively young company, and when they got their first big NIH grant a few years ago, it was a huge achievement. They were also recently successful in applying to the Y Combinator program in Silicon Valley. Last summer Dave and his team worked with Y Combinator to take their molecular diagnostics work to the next level. Participating in this program has provided them with great advice, helpful connections, and a valuable network of other successful companies.
Book Recommendations (26:00)
Cantor’s Dilemma by Carl Djerassi and The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
Most Treasured Travel (27:40)
For about a decade, Dave has been able to spend a few weeks each summer at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He has helped teach biologists about computer programming through a course there, and this place has become a huge part of his life. It is a beautiful setting, and the first time Dave went in 2005, he remembers marveling at the many pictures of ground-breaking scientists throughout history working in the laboratories there.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (30:03)
Dave completed his PhD in Stockholm, and one of the best things about living in Sweden for five years was experiencing the culture there. In late summer, there is a Swedish tradition of having crayfish parties where everyone gets together to eat crayfish and drink snaps. He has fond memories of enjoying the crayfish and festive singing with colleagues at these events.
Advice For Us All (34:28)
Get out there and talk to other people who have been successful in what you want to do. Never give up on what you are passionate about, and don’t be afraid or intimidated to pursue a career in industry or entrepreneurship because so many exciting opportunities await you.
Dave has spent the last 19 years working in computational biology and genetics. He trained in molecular biology and human genetics at the University of Chicago and Washington University in Saint Louis and earned his PhD in computational biology in Erik Sonnhammer’s lab in Stockholm, Sweden. Dave worked for 3 years at the Washington University Genome Institute developing software used for annotation, assembly assessment, and comparative sequence analysis. Dave joined Cofactor Genomics in 2012, where he now serves as Chief Operating Officer.