Convocation medalist thrives as data scientist at top biotech firm

June 08, 2023

Newly minted Simon Fraser University graduate Miranda Louwerse’s top marks have landed her the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation medal as one of the Faculty of Science’s top three PhD students—while her impressive skills have also led to a full-time job with one of B.C.’s pre-eminent life sciences companies, AbCellera.

The company last month received $300 million from the provincial and federal governments towards establishing its state-of-the-art biotech campus in Vancouver and expand its capacity to develop innovative medicines.

“I'm really excited about the future of AbCellera and where the company is going,” says Louwerse, who began her job in December. “And I'm excited for the opportunity to work on some really hard and meaningful problems—and for a company that is taking steps to keep this knowledge and development in Canada, for the benefit of everyone.”

AbCellera is perhaps best known for discovering and co-developing two antibody treatments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Louwerse’s role as a data scientist on the antibody assessment team involves working with lab scientists to transfer their assay data into a centralized database by building and maintaining automated analysis and reporting pipelines and helping scientists answer specific questions of their data.

Louwerse helps the entire pipeline operate smoothly for everyone, liaising with software developers and lab scientists to ensure good data management practices.

With an early interest in drug discovery and development, Louwerse hopes to contribute to finding healthcare solutions with meaningful real-world impact. A graduate student in SFU’s chemistry department, her senior supervisor, David Sivak, is a physics professor. She credits her interdisciplinary experience at SFU with helping to prepare her for her new role in industry.

“There are so many interesting research problems that you get to solve when you are pulling in bits of information from different fields,” she says. “My education at SFU was very interdisciplinary and it taught me to think creatively and independently.”

Gaining experience in multiple fields was an advantage. “I was able to touch not only on chemistry and physics but also math, computer science and biology, and all of these fields play a big role at AbCellera,” she explains.

Louwerse also learned how to effectively communicate scientific ideas to a diverse audience while at SFU—an essential skill for her work within a large and diverse team at AbCellera. 

“I found that I really have a passion for working on hard problems and thinking through all the complex things that we need to consider—and what we do at AbCellera is very similar.”

Her advice to young scientists is to hone an area of interest that they are passionate about but to be open to exploring other areas of science. They should focus on developing good communication skills and find opportunities to talk to and collaborate with other scientists. She also suggests that young scientists get involved in research as soon as they have the opportunity.

“Research allows you to apply knowledge learned in classes to new problems, strengthening your understanding of key concepts in your field and providing the opportunity to learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” says Louwerse. “These skills are valuable no matter what path you take in your career. Plus, research is fun! You have the opportunity to discover new knowledge and share it with others. That furthers our collective scientific understanding.”