Atom Spotlight: Cornelius Corkery Dives Into Atomwise's Academic Environment

February 03, 2021
Careers, Culture

Atomwise is a world-class team of diverse disciplines internally referred to as "Atoms." In this Atom Spotlight, Cornelius Corkery, a member of our Operations and People Teams, dives into Atomwise’s academic environment and talks about employee development initiatives that nurture a culture where Atoms are experts among experts.

Atomwise puts an emphasis on creating an academic environment where continuous learning is a high priority for our R&D teams and the greater company community. Many team members mention that their day at Atomwise doesn’t feel all that different from the ones they remember from grad school.

Aside from employee development efforts that encourage Atoms to advance the state of the art in their technical fields, we have also a number of internal educational initiatives to promote cross-team discussion and edify curious minds about fields adjacent to their own. These initiatives support our multidisciplinary culture, and include fields that pertain to Atomwise’s work in drug discovery, artificial intelligence, and computational or medicinal chemistry.

Opening Up Development Team Meetings

The earliest of these efforts in Atomwise’s history was opening up our weekly Development Team meetings. While intended more as an opportunity for team members to present on and discuss the projects they are working on, the Dev Team meetings are a great opportunity for new Atoms to learn about the priorities of the R&D team. The presentations span topics from software development and machine learning to cheminformatics and our drug discovery research, so they are helpful in enriching team member’s understanding of other disciplines and provide a forum to collectively evaluate challenges and work toward solutions.

Having a background in machine learning doesn’t make one an expert in medicinal chemistry, and vice versa. Team members come from diverse academic backgrounds and Dev Team Meetings often delve into topics where circumscribed expertise is necessary to follow the discussion, making keeping up with each thread of ideas a challenge.

101 Series

To remedy this, we began asking Atoms to put together 101 type courses to explain the basics of their field of expertise to the broader company (and dissuade me of my impression that siamese networks had something to do with social media for cats). Our 101 Series of talks strike a great tone, starting with the basic concepts and background on a topic before increasing in sophistication, and have attracted attention from team members from other fields or without a foundation in technology or science (like me). One of the admirable qualities of Atoms is that they love to learn and ask questions, so the opportunity to hear from an expert on the team on the subject of their research, whether at Atomwise or in their academic or professional past, and to hear their enthusiasm for the topic and engagement with their colleagues is one that consistently fills meeting space (and, more recently, a torrent of camera tiles on Zoom).

Among the topics of recent 101 Series talks are presentations on Targeted protein degradation / Ub-proteasome system and Pharmacokinetics (by members of our Computer Aided Drug Discovery team), the machine learning concepts that underlie our artificial intelligence drug discovery platform AtomNet® (by our Machine Learning team), and even legal topics relevant to our R&D team such as software licensing and our processes around patent filing (by our Contracts team). Our philosophy is that we are a team composed of experts in a broad number of fields that are complementary, so any added instruction that can enrich our understanding of the work that we’re doing is a priority.

Journal Club

Another fun opportunity for the team to discuss current research is our journal club meetings. Initiated by our Senior Machine Learning Engineer, Brandon Anderson, the journal club invites members from across the team to select and lead discussion on recent journal articles and the concepts underlying them. These are less instructional than they are an opportunity for Atoms to discuss ideas that may or may not be directly applicable to the work that we’re doing in a conversational environment. The result of the more relaxed atmosphere is an opportunity for interdisciplinary discussion and to exchange ideas with colleagues that one might not necessarily work with directly. The club meets at least monthly and has had outside presenters share their work and dissect their journal articles with the Atomwise team.

Development Initiatives for Atoms

Individual departments have also instituted initiatives intended to cultivate knowledge and development among their teams as well. Our Partnering team spends alternating Fridays working on career development and learning opportunities. Carving this time out allows the team to explore topics that interest them and apply their newly developed skills. Similarly, our Computer Aided Drug Design (CADD) team has implemented a review on organic chemistry that serves to refresh and dive deeply into a topic that they frequently encounter in their work.

We incentivize Atoms to hone their skills and participate in dialog on the most recent developments in their fields by providing funding for course and conference attendance. We encourage everyone on the team to take coursework that addresses developments in their field and strengthens competency in subjects like people and project management. As important as it is to have the tools to complete the tasks before us, having access to ongoing instruction that sharpens our understanding of the topics we are addressing in our work and that improves our ability to collaborate and tackle issues with colleagues is critical.

Many of our team members come from research backgrounds and we aim to foster an atmosphere that is supportive of publishing their research and presenting on the work going on at Atomwise at top scientific conferences. Conference attendance and participation are important to accomplishing this, so we advocate for Atoms to submit abstracts and contribute to conferences and seminars as panelists when they have a project or topic whose details they believe will help provide progress in their field. Aside from presenting, we encourage team members to attend industry conferences like the American Chemical Society and Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) meetings in order to maintain a pulse on the goings on in their respective areas of expertise.

Inquisitive Culture Enabling Innovation

Through the various projects at Atomwise, our Atoms have the opportunity to invent and innovate in their area of expertise. Whether it be optimizing our AtomNet® technology or using our platform to find first-in-class targets for possible drug treatments, Atoms work alongside expert colleagues, but also the brightest principal investigators (PIs) and industry collaborators. In the case of our CADD team, they have the chance to invent alongside research institutes and our corporate pharma partners from all around the world. Atomwise currently has nineteen patents and twelve pending patent applications. Within our team, 40% of Atoms in our R&D group are patent holders, and 80% of all Atoms are published authors. The employee-driven learning environment promotes the development of new intellectual property by encouraging Atoms to consider new approaches to move beyond prior art.

Atomwise culture celebrates the opportunity to continue learning even as the company focuses on developing its technology and working with new partners to make strides in drug discovery. There is great value in being an expert among experts rather than feeling like the smartest person in the room -- no one person will solve the difficult problems that still lie ahead in technology, chemistry, and business, but bonding with fellow Atoms to collaborate and tackle increasingly complex problems in a supportive and collegial environment is a step in the direction of accomplishing great things together.


Join our team

Our team is comprised of over 30 PhD scientists who contribute to a high-performance academic-like culture that fosters robust scientific and technical excellence. We strongly believe that data wins over opinions, and aim for as little dogma as possible in our decision making. Learn more about our team and opportunities at Atomwise. 


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