Spotlight On: Alex Ochoa, PhD


Alex Ochoa is co-investigator and statistical geneticist in the Center for Combinatorial Gene Regulation. He is originally from El Paso, Texas, which is near Juarez, Mexico. Ochoa enjoys the cuisine and visiting old friends when he visits. Ochoa plays the guitar in his free time, and likes photography and cinema. He also has an interest in genealogy, and has a digitized collection of pictures documenting his family history. Ochoa is currently learning Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

What are some of your contributions to the Duke CEGS/CCGR project? 
I have helped mentor students with biostatistics projects, particularly in estimating false discovery rates and population genetics models. My main work is focused on genetic association studies and population structure, including admixture, which come up in modeling any real dataset.

What excites you most about this project?
I'm most excited about helping to identify findings in genetics and disease that are applicable across ethnic groups. I've learned a lot about new experimental techniques to interrogate non-coding variants.

Where do you spend most of your time during work?
I'm 100% in a dry lab and I love it!

What does your typical work day look like?
I'm at my computer most of the time, though lately, working from home means I have great flexibility and am able to get things done at home too (making meals, school pickups, other errands). I'm still programming a fair amount, and the rest of the time is spent writing papers and grants, performing some administrative stuff (like checking email and slack), and preparing presentations.

What do you like most about what you do? And, in what ways do you inspire others?
I love making discoveries and I think I help the students I mentor see that they can totally do this too.

Did you expect to work and train at Duke? Why did you decide to join Duke?
The biostats and other departments have many people doing very interesting research in statistical genetics, and many of whom, understood my passion for kinship estimation bias and its downstream effects.

How has working at Duke changed or impacted your life?
My collaborators have generously helped me advance in my career goals by providing great data and co-authorship, and helping me learn about new diseases.

What was your major in undergrad? Does it align to your career now?
Mathematics and Biology. Yes broadly, though not specifically. For example, I didn't take linear algebra or advanced stats, which is what I use the most now.

In undergrad, what career did you see for yourself?
I thought I'd be modeling protein structures, that's what I was most familiar with and what my undergrad research focused on.

What advice would you give to someone who doesn't know exactly what they want to do in undergrad?
It's good to follow your interests and have a plan, but also be flexible and take advantage of new opportunities even when they're outside of your comfort zone.

Did you ever study abroad in college, if so where and how was experience?
Not exactly, but college was my first time living long-term in the US. Before that, I was in the border mostly on the Mexican side. It was a learning experience.

Who inspired you growing up? And, Why?
Before college, probably famous physicists like Einstein.

What skill are you currently working to master?
Modelling survival data.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Right now, I'd like to visit key locations during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, including Tlaxcala and Zempoala.

If you had to choose one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Name two interesting facts about yourself.
I was in a grad school band that played rock covers, and I know French fairly well.

What are three things you can't live without?
Beef, music, camera.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Be more confident

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