Major Mondays: Mathematical and Computational Biology

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An interview with Tona Gonzales, senior Mathematical and Computational Biology major.

Four students sitting together on a bench

Tona and Mudd friends when they were living together during the remote semester. Photo Credit: Tona Gonzales

How did you pick your major?

Coming into Mudd I was already really into math. And then, also in high school, I kind of got into computational biology. I was always this math kid, then I discovered comp-bio, and then the MCB major seemed like the perfect combination of all that. I think that’s also a big reason I ended up at Mudd, because it seemed like the perfect combination of all the things I really cared about and wanted to do.

Have you done research in the MCB major?

I’ve been in Prof Bush’s lab since frosh summer, through every semester after that. For the past two summers I’ve done some comp-bio research in New York and a cancer center there. In Prof Bush’s lab, we’re focused on evolutionary biology and horizontal gene transfer events. It’s a transfer of genetic material between bacteria and oftentimes it confers antibiotic resistance or increases pathogenicity, like the Cholera pathogenicity island. And so we’re working on creating software that identifies these horizontal gene transfer events and shows it in the phylogenetic history, so you have some knowledge about how these genes came to be in different species.

What was your favorite major class?

I really liked Advanced Computational Biology. I enjoy computer science and all we did in that class was code and think about algorithms. They were the types of problems that I’m interested in solving. That’s why I want to do comp-bio research, and it was nice to do all this stuff I found interesting for an entire semester.

What was your favorite non major class?

I would say my favorite non major class I took was Language and Society at Pomona, which is a socio-linguistics class. Linguistics is my concentration and I found it really interesting talking about how people perceive other people’s language, how that influences society, and how people react to other people based on it. It’s something always in the back of my head when I’m talking to people, what biases I have based on their language and different things. It’s really fun to think about.

What most surprised you about your major?

It’s super, super flexible. I lost some flexibility in it, because I’m a pre-med student as well, and so a lot of the classes that I have to take aren’t found within the MCB major. I have to go out of my way to take them, but I can essentially fit an entire other major in at the same time that I’m doing my MCB major.

What is your senior project?

I’m continuing my work with Prof Bush in a slightly different direction, but still in his lab.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I’m currently finished applying now and so just doing interviews and hearing back, but I applied to MD-PhD programs. Planning to be in school for another 10 years!