Humans of the U: Aaron Quinlan

“I started programming when I was a kid. As a new college graduate in 1997, it was pretty easy to get a good job if you could write even a single line of code. But I realized after a few years of software consulting that I was doing the same work over and over again for different clients.

I was looking for a change. After September 11, my company lost a lot of business, and they offered me the opportunity to take a winter off. I accepted immediately, became a ski bum in Colorado and thought at length about what I really wanted to do.

Right around that time, the first draft of the human genome was completed. An article I read focused on computer science that was so essential to that project. That caught my eye as a way to use my skills that would have a bigger impact. Without this confluence of being bored, being laid off and then the completion of the human genome project, I probably wouldn’t have gone back to school.

During the same period, I met my future wife. She was similarly bored with her career, so we both applied to graduate school and miraculously got into the same school in 2004. I was hooked, sort of flew through my Ph.D., and was off to the races. I moved my lab to the U in 2015. We’re known for developing innovative software tools for genome research and for work to solve previously unsolved rare genetic disorders.

I love research. It’s exciting and incredibly rewarding to identify problems and devise creative solutions with a marriage of molecular biology and computer science. I feel like I won the lottery. I’m a full professor at the university I love. I’m eager to get to work, and it’s often hard to leave. Loving what you do is an incredible blessing.”

—Aaron Quinlan, professor of human genetics, associate director of the USTAR Center for Genetic Discovery

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.