CSpotlight: A wise approach to education

Christine Brennan is an mathematician who discovered a love for computer science thanks to an introductory programming class. She has done a tremendous job of utilizing many of the resources and opportunities available to undergraduates at the University to enhance her skills, grow her network, and set herself up for a successful future.

Why did you choose to study computer science at the University of Minnesota?

I was originally a mathematics major. During my first semester at the U, I took CSCI 1113: Introduction to C/C++, because it is required for the mathematics B.S. I really enjoyed the class because it combined a lot of things that interest me (learning languages, math, and problem solving). I knew I had a lot of free time in my four-year plan, so I met with a CS&E advisor and decided to go for a computer science degree too!

Tell us about your experience with Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).

As a freshman, I applied to live in the WISE LLC (Living Learning Community) in Frontier Hall so I could live with like-minded women in STEM. I ended up having an amazing roommate who was a physics major, so we could study together and share experiences as women in STEM on campus. Through the LLC, I joined the WISE Mentor Program to get matched with a female Medtronic employee. My mentor highly encouraged me to apply for Medtronic’s WISE intern program for rising freshmen and sophomores. Through networking opportunities like the WISE Mentor Program, I was able to get an internship at Medtronic! I wouldn’t have known about the intern program or how to best prepare my resume and my first interview without the knowledge I gained from my mentor.

What was your favorite part about working for Medtronic last summer?

I was hired as a contractor in Research and Development at Medtronic. My favorite part was getting to know other interns virtually during lunch sessions, where we would also meet professionals from other divisions of Medtronic. Through this networking, I was able to learn more about the variety of positions at the company and how to prepare for the ones that interest me the most.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your internship with Medtronic?

Unfortunately, the WISE internship program that I was hired through was canceled, however, I was rehired by my manager as a contractor. All of my work was done virtually, except exchanging equipment (socially distanced and masked). I still was able to visit the Medtronic Mounds View campus to see the labs where the data I was analyzing was collected. This next summer, I will be working virtually with Medtronic again, but I anticipate there will still be many great opportunities to expand my data analysis skills and network at virtual events.

What inspired your interest in the medical application of artificial intelligence and machine learning?

During my freshman year, I was undecided about a specific career path. I knew that I like applied mathematics (modeling, optimization, etc.), and wanted to do work that would help others. Through my courses and internship at Medtronic, I learned more about data science and how machine learning models use statistics to curve fit large sets of data. For instance, when it comes to testing cardiac equipment, there are many variables being tracked, so it is very useful to be able to analyze this data with a machine learning model, rather than individually by a human. So many people are impacted by cardiac conditions everyday, so this work is very important and meaningful.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

To get the most out of your classes, go to office hours. Going to the professor’s or TA’s office hours is one of the best ways to make connections on campus and learn the best tips/tricks that you won’t hear in class. Sometimes, if there are multiple people in office hours, your question might be asked by another student and then you can feel less alone in your struggle and you can maybe ask a different question later!

For career preparation, my best advice is to find a mentor or two through programs like the CSE Mentor Program. There are lots of professionals who are excited to share their advice and experiences with the next generation of scientists and engineers. It is also nice to have a LinkedIn account set up and visit the career fairs to make more connections! Networking is key because you never know who knows someone that could help you advance your career.

What are your plans after graduation?

I hope to work for a company like Medtronic, with a focus in data analysis or maybe software engineering. I'm also considering a Master's degree in data science, biomedical engineering, or software engineering in the future. I think continuing in the biomedical field could be exciting, but I am also open to exploring other ways I can use math and programming skills to help others.