Week in the Life: Dr. Ryan Hernandez (Dry Lab Researcher)
Some outside of academia think professors or researchers do not do very much work, and instead are paid to sit around and think. While this belief is often directed at those in the humanities fields, the Academic Senate followed around UCSF Associate Professor Ryan Hernandez, PhD, to see what he actually addresses in a week.
The population geneticist is a professor in the UC San Francisco School of Pharmacy, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences and serves as a core member in the Quantitative Biosciences Institute and the Institute for Human Genetics.
While his daily duties differ, his weekly duties follow a similar schedule. From professor and researcher to family man, Dr. Hernandez leads his laboratory of six people in their study of genetic variation. He also manages additional tasks required of all UC faculty, including University and public service—demonstrated by serving on multiple campus committees—as well as membership in multiple societies or serving as an ad hoc reviewer for scientific journals.
Hernandez’s typical weekly responsibilities are as follows:
- As head of the Hernandez Laboratory:
- Holds weekly one-hour one-on-one meetings with each member of Hernandez Laboratory to discuss research progress
- Applies and researches for collaborative and individual research efforts (10-15% of time)
- Attends lab meetings with six members of Hernandez Laboratory on Mondays for 1.5 hours
- Attends formal meetings with other faculty to discuss possible collaborations for 2 hours
- Attends joint lab meetings with two other labs with similar lines of research featuring presentations of another researcher’s work on Wednesdays for 1.5 hours
- Reads research papers to say updated on research efforts
- Teaches “Computational Evolutionary Genomics” twice a week for one quarter for 3 hours total
- Guest lectures one-two times per quarter
- Graduate advisor for Biological and Medical Informatics Graduate Program (BMI) for 1.2 hours per week
- Co-primary investigator for the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) Grant for 1.2 hours per week
- Committee member involvement with five different graduate program committees for 1.2 hours per week
- Committee member on Senate’s Equal Opportunity Committee (EQOP) , meets monthly for 10-12 hours throughout the year with additional hours of involvement outside of meetings
- Committee member on two executive committee for: Institute for Computational Health Sciences (ICHS) and the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI), each takes place monthly for one-two hours.
While Hernandez’s daily schedule varies, it does follow a similar time pattern. Hernandez’s day begins much earlier with him waking up around 5 a.m.-7 a.m. Then, he responds to work emails or plays with his two young daughters and completes other morning duties.
Next, at 8:30 a.m., he drops off his eldest daughter at school and heads to work. Due to a long commute from the East Bay, Hernandez tailors his day to fit around a time that avoids heavy traffic and allows him to spend time with family.
“I leave work around 2-4 p.m. and use the next hours to spend time with my family and after my daughters go to sleep, I start working again from home,” Hernandez said. “I don’t get a lot sleep, but that is because I value family time, and so I sacrifice sleep in order to spend time with my family.”
At home, he works until 11 a.m. or midnight. Hernandez’s research is computational, which allows flexibility for him to work from home, whereas a scientific researcher in a wet lab often must be physically located in their laboratory. Hernandez’s research involves an in-depth analysis of simulations.
Some of the information gathered for the Hernandez Laboratory comes from the 1000 Genomes Project, an international research effort that ran from 2008-2015, offering first-of-its-kind data of entire genomes from hundreds of individuals. His lab focuses on understanding how mutations present in a person’s genome can lead to complex diseases or health.
“Our research is relevant in this age of precision medicine, because the only way that we’re going to understand the mechanisms of how molecules impact downstream phenotypes is if we thoroughly understand the basic biology of how these different parts work together,” Hernandez said.
The lab’s research branches off into three specific studies that focus on genomics.
The first avenue of the lab study is evolutionary genomics, which looks at how evolutionary forces shape patterns of genetic variation across different human populations, specifically understudied populations. The second part utilizes genetic variation to uncover how evolutionary forces might alter the way one’s genes influence the diseases we are susceptible to. The third lab study analyzes human and other mammals’ interactions with host pathogens across a range of viruses.
In Hernandez’s office research findings cover the white board. Hernandez said when his lab first approaches a scientific inquiry they form a general idea by reading literature on the particular topic.
“By understanding what has been done and the holes in our knowledge, we can make steps to identify ways to fill in those gaps,” Hernandez said.
Therefore, Hernandez’s research centers on bridging the gap between the basic science of understanding how basic evolutionary forces have shaped genetic variation and how those forces might change the ways in which genes affect complex diseases.
Hernandez spends the rest of his time applying for new grant applications and completing research. The majority of the grants are collaborative training or instrument grants. Currently, Hernandez is collaborating with Atul Butte, MD, PhD, focusing on precision medicine and training; with Nevan Krogan, PhD, and Dara Torgerson, PhD, focused on asthma; and within the Hernandez Laboratory, researchers focused on heart, lung and blood phenotypes from whole genome sequencing data.
Separately from the collaborative grants, Hernandez fills out grant applications for individual research. However, time spent on his primary research is limited, because of his many other duties and a shifted focus towards training the next generation of researchers.
Teaching and Committee Involvement
Outside of research, Hernandez has the opportunity to teach and play a vital role in the education of UCSF students. His teaching responsibilities cause him to spend time reading and prepping for the lectures.
“The most enjoyable part of teaching is interacting with students,” Hernandez said. “I also mentor some students and post-doctoral researchers by helping them develop scientific maturity in their career development.”
Two of the past students that Hernandez taught have completed their PhD’s. One now works in industry for a startup, and the other is completing their post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University.
Additionally, his involvement as the co-primary investigator with IMSD allows him to advocate on behalf of minority students.
“The IMSD Grant is an initiative for maximizing student development through a minority oriented training grant where we seek to develop and foster underrepresented minorities at the graduate level at UCSF to ensure that they are given the resources they need to be successful scientists,” Hernandez said.
Another committee Hernandez serves on is EQOP in the Academic Senate, with nine other members from various departments on campus. The committee is charged with reviewing the status of underrepresented faculty groups in those areas where the Senate has jurisdiction, and to report annually on the policies and the progress of the Division towards achieving equal opportunity for underrepresented groups. Additionally, it serves as the review committee for the Faculty Development Awards, originating from the Chancellor’s Office.
Currently, EQOP supports Under-represented minority (URM) faculty by collaborating with the Office of Diversity and Outreach on the Equity and Inclusion Initiative that the Chancellor has prioritized. EQOP works with the Research Allocation Program (RAP) to co-sponsor through various awards Under-represented faculty and faculty conducting research affecting URM groups. The goal of this program is to encourage faculty from these groups to remain in academia for their career and thus increase the diversity of our faculty. The Academic Senate has given $40,000 to EQOP over the past several years that have been used to sponsor URM faculty research. While awardees are selected by RAP, EQOP advocates for the Senate to fund URM faculty research, which meets a goal within the Chancellor’s Fund to benefit faculty. Grant awards and awardees can be viewed on the RAP website.
EQOP also sponsors a second year of UCSF’s involvement with the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development’s Faculty Success Program Bootcamp.
Prior to coming to UCSF in 2010, Hernandez received his PhD from Cornell University, the ivy-league located in New York.
“In undergrad I studied mathematics and when I was considering continuing my education, I had a mentor who recommended that I consider graduate school at Cornell, where I would have the opportunity to study under Carlos Bustamante, PhD, who now works at Stanford University [where he leads a bioformatics, genetics and genomics lab],” Hernandez said. “Bustamante introduced me to the idea of working in the field that I am now working in.”
After graduating from Cornell, Hernandez, the San Leandro native, returned to the Bay Area, and began his career at UCSF after being attracted to the research community there.
Hernandez recalls that even as he looks back to his first day in his career, he cannot point to a specific change he would make.
“Nothing I have done [in research or teaching] has been a waste of time, even the things that didn’t pan out were useful in general,” Hernandez said.
Kathryn Sill is a Communications Specialist in the Academic Senate Office, San Francisco Division. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.