Polygence blog / Student Spotlights

High School Project on AI in Cancer Research: Sia's Research Paper and Blog

10 minute read

Sia is a junior from East Greenbush, New York who researched the impact of artificial intelligence on modern cancer treatment. With the help of her Polygence mentor, Akshaya, she collected information from various scientific articles and compiled it all into a fascinating research paper! Sia also created her own blog on the subject to not only help her own learning, but translate the complicated world of AI and oncology into simpler terms for other students who would like to learn. You can read more about Sia’s Polygence experience in the interview below.

What attracted you to Polygence’s Research Program?

I've been wanting to be a research assistant or do research in a lab since I was in high school, but like most things, you have to be 16. Yet, as soon as I turned 16, covid hit and I couldn't really go. So, my dad and I were looking for a place and we found Polygence.

Did you know what kind of research project you wanted to do right away?

I've always wanted to be a doctor, so I knew I wanted to go in that direction. Moreover, two years ago someone that I'm close to was diagnosed with cancer, so I also gained a specific interest in oncology because of that experience. I focused on cervical cancer because that was the cancer they were diagnosed with and I wanted to understand it more. I also decided to study brain and lung cancer too since I found that many of the articles I was reading did research with those two types.

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But in terms of a specific project, I didn’t really have a fleshed-out idea. I talked to my mentor and she said that for me, the best idea would probably be to do a paper because I can use it for college. Also, if I wanted to get into a lab later, I could show it to one of my professors.

That's great advice! Why did you decide to do a blog later as well?

I was coming across a couple either really interesting or really hard papers to read. So, I actually suggested that I write blog posts on certain papers to help me understand them more. That way I can also explain it in more simple terms for other people like me who are interested, but might not understand all the jargon of the papers.

That's actually a really cool and interesting way to help you learn! So, what was the process of writing a research paper like?

I have to be honest. It was pretty challenging at first because I went into the project knowing close to nothing about artificial intelligence. So, when I would come across a lot of papers with confusing terms and concepts, I would get frustrated. I had no idea what was happening. Yet then, as time went on, Akshaya and I were able to talk through them and eventually, I got better at analyzing them.

I’m glad you were able to get through it! Were there any other ways your mentor helped you?

One of the ways that actually helped me understand better were these figure presentations we’d do. Whenever I would see a figure in a paper, I’d copy it into a slideshow and then, at our lesson, I would explain it to her as if she had never heard of the concept before. That really helped me to understand it more and break the concepts down into simpler terms.

While you were trying to understand the material itself, how were you able to decide how to structure all of that information into a cohesive paper?

After getting a better grasp of the concepts, I was able to include them in my paper. My mentor would also help me identify what some of the most important things to cover were. From there, I made it into two parts. I covered brain cancer, lung cancer, and cervical cancer for the first part of the paper. I talked about how AI can be used to make cancer treatment more efficient through different algorithms. For example, deep learning is able to mimic the human brain. For the second part of it, I talked more about AI in medical education, as well as the way that it will impact doctor-patient interactions and how that will impact medical jobs.

Did you know that you wanted to have these two sections since you first started making your outline?

Initially, I think I wanted to focus on promises and perils. I didn't really know exactly what I would do. I decided from the start that I would do those three types of cancer, but in terms of including the impact on jobs, doctor patient interactions, etc., that all came later.

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How would you say that Polygence’s program is different from a typical class or tutoring program?

I think the biggest thing was that I could work at my own pace and I was able to decide what I wanted to do. I also really benefited from the one-on-one time that I got with Akshaya. She was a great help.

Was there anything you gained at Polygence that you don’t think you would’ve gained at school?

I think for me, it was getting more confidence in myself to conduct my own research. Going into it, I had never really done my own, real research paper. I just did whatever I was assigned at school, but Polygence helped me realize that I can teach myself complex ideas and analyze them on my own in a way that I wouldn't do at school.

Can you walk me through what a typical session would look like?

We'd usually start by just discussing what I've prepared, which would usually be a blog post or a section of a paper. Then, we’d talk more about the papers that I had read and she'd answer any questions that I had. After that, we would do the figure presentation that I was talking about earlier and she would give me pointers for what I needed to include in my paper, so I could work on it for next time. Then finally, we would decide on my goals for next time.

Do you wish that you had known anything before you first got into Polygence’s program?

Not in terms of anything to do with the program, but I would like to tell my past self to just let it be. Don’t get frustrated if something isn't coming along instantly because it took a couple sessions for me to realize what I was doing and for everything to get sorted out.

For high schoolers who want to learn more about machine learning or oncology, what would you recommend that they watch, read, or do right now?

I think they should definitely read the current newspapers or articles that have come out because that's the most relevant research. For instance, I found something from five years ago, but so much more has been developed since then. Two research papers that Akshaya showed me and that I found really interesting were one on DNA fragmentation and another on the realities of implementing machine learning into healthcare.

What are your feelings on the publishing process of your research paper?

It's under review right now, so I haven't heard back from the publishers, but it was pretty stressful just thinking about what if it doesn't get published or something. Yet now, I've kind of just realized that it is what it is. I think it's a really cool opportunity either way. And if it does get published, just to be able to say that I'm a published high school student would be pretty cool.

That would be a lot of clout to have! So, how did you go about finding potential publishers?

I talked to Akshaya about how I wanted to get my paper published. So, she had me go research a couple publishers and Staci<sup><a href="#fn1" id="ref1">1</a></sup> also suggested a few to me. After that, I looked through everything I had collected, but a lot of them actually had deadlines that already passed and some wouldn't accept lengthy review articles. Yet, I was fortunate enough to find one that would not only take review articles, but one as long as mine.

Fingers crossed! What advice do you have for those who want to write a paper?

I think the biggest thing would be to pick a topic that interests you because it's not really fun to write if you don't care about it or you’re uninterested in it. Also, if you're going through Polygence, really take advantage of your mentor! Akshaya, really answered any questions I had. I would message her all the time and she would either answer them right away or if it was really complicated, she'd be like, “Okay, we'll go over it in detail at the next session.”

We’ve talked a bit about how Polygence is different from other research programs, but what would you say is the most valuable thing that you’ve gained from Polygence?

Definitely the potential to do my own research. Plus, before I did this, I probably wouldn't have gone and read papers, or have even written my own paper. Yet, now I realize that, that is something I’m capable of. Akshaya actually told me about some news channels too like Science News and ScienceDaily, and so I subscribed to those and I still like reading their papers that come out.

Any advice for those who are interested in writing a blog?

It’s similar to writing a paper, but also remember that your audience is going to have more people who have no background on what you’re talking about. So, just make sure to keep the language accessible and explain a lot. The first time I put my blog out, my mom was like, this is confusing. So then, the next time I did it, I read it to my ten-year-old brother and asked him if he understood it.

That's a good measure to see if your writing makes sense! Do you have any other advice that you'd like to offer to high schoolers thinking about joining Polygence?

Like I said before, pick a topic that really interests you. Also, when working with your mentor, don't feel like you're stupid for asking them stuff because they've been in so many more years of school than you. Plus, they're there to help you, so take advantage of the opportunity and message them whenever.

Click here to visit Sia’s blog!

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