Mallory Tollefson

"At the Iowa Technology Institute, I am able to combine my enthusiasm for two fields: biology and computing. I have always enjoyed biology, but computing piqued my interest during my first year of undergraduate engineering studies. I find that using technology to pursue biological applications is always improving, and there are constantly new ideas to be explored.”

Hometown: Indianola, Iowa

Year: Fifth-year PhD student

Program: Biomedical Engineering with a focus on computational biophysics

Mission Area: Biotechnology

Lab: Computational Biomolecular Engineering Lab 

Advisor: Michael J. Schnieders, associate professor of biomedical engineering and of biochemistry

What brought you to the Iowa Technology Institute?

Professor Michael Schnieders's lab at the ITI is at the intersection of my two interests, so I joined his lab as a first-year student, and I have enjoyed working with the ITI since then.

What do you work on and what do you enjoy most about your work? 
I divide my time between two projects that both concern protein folding. The fold of a protein is indicative of the function of a protein, but to date, fewer than 40% of proteins in the human proteome have been successfully folded using experimental or computational approaches. My first project is a machine learning algorithm that uses a neural network to predict the coordinates of a protein backbone, and my second project uses folding restraints to decrease the computational cost of folding proteins using molecular dynamics approaches. The aspect of my work that I enjoy most is teaching other students. Watching students grow in their knowledge and confidence as I mentor them through a project is rewarding. 

What achievements are you most proud of? 
I am most proud of being part of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Applying for the GRFP was time-consuming and took persistence. I was not accepted to the program during my first application, and I used my disappointment to become more persistent with my research projects, reach out for assistance with my writing application, and learn to accept feedback graciously. Applying twice helped me learn that failure can be one of the best learning experiences if you are willing to work hard to achieve your goals.