Simayijiang Xirenayi

College Ten ’21, biology and bioinformatics (minor)

Simayijiang Xirenayi (College Ten ’21, biology and bioinformatics [minor])
Simayijiang Xirenayi (College Ten ’21, biology and bioinformatics [minor])

Simayijiang "Sherin" Xirenayi grew up in Xinjiang, a region in northwestern China, where her family is part of the Uyghur ethnic minority and Turkic Muslims.  

When Xirenayi left home at age 19, she knew she wanted to study biology, but first, she needed to improve her English skills. She attended De Anza College, a community college in Cupertino, before she transferred to UC Santa Cruz in 2018.

 It wasn't an easy move. 

"I didn't have many friends, and the classes were large and tough for me," she said. "I failed three classes and ended up on academic probation."

Her life turned a corner when she was asked to meet with a campus adviser. 

"She guided me, and I was able to change my study strategy and my attitude toward life,'' Xirenayi said. "I started to work out and to be more outgoing, and little by little, I was able to improve myself and my situation."

That's also when she became fascinated with genetics, evolution, and natural selection, which was very different from her beliefs as a child in Xinjiang. She tried analyzing genomes and found her passion in programming and bioinformatics—the science of collecting and analyzing complex biological data, such as genetic codes. 

Xirenayi was supposed to graduate a year ago, but she stayed to get her minor in bioinformatics, and she describes her last year as her most productive one yet. She has lived the last year in Milpitas, and plans to work as a research associate before she pursues post-graduate education.

"I feel like I just woke up," she says. "I've changed so much, but I want to keep developing a stronger perspective and work for a year or two. I really like who I am today."

And just as she expressed her gratitude to her adviser for her early academic success, Xirenayi recognizes professors who have guided her. 

"During the last year, when I was lost about what to do after graduation and how to apply for jobs," she said, "I met professors Guido Bordignon and David Bernick. They helped me with career advice, job seeking, and interview practices, and with their support and my effort, I found the job I wanted."