Developing Algorithms to Improve Healthcare Outcomes

* You graduated in 2010.  What have you been up to since leaving Olin?
After finishing Olin, I started graduate school in fall 2010 at Brown University in Providence, RI. I spent six happy and productive years there doing research in computer science. I just finished my Ph.D. this past May. I'm now a post-doctoral researcher ("post-doc" for short) at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

* How did you pick a graduate school?
I chose Brown's computer science department for the same reasons I picked Olin for undergraduate education. First, my peers. Second, my faculty adviser. 

At Brown, my fellow students were very smart but also well-rounded. There was a strong sense of community that I did not find at other departments I considered. Graduate school can be a stressful, all-consuming and often (unfortunately) a soul-sucking time of life. I was lucky to make several very good friends in my lab and at Brown who helped me navigate the first few years and have fun doing it.

Second, I worked with an outstanding adviser: Prof. Erik Sudderth. He gave me so much technical depth but was unusually patient and encouraging. I'd advise anybody considering a Ph.D. to pursue specific advisers rather than just the overall institution. The Ph.D. is a chance to be an apprentice for several years, so you should pick someone you specifically want to work with. Don't be sucked into a school with a big name if there's no one there for you.

* Tell us more about your research.
Sure! I do research in statistical machine learning. We develop elegant models to help humans gain insight from data and computer programs to "train" these models from large amounts of data. This means on any given day, you can find me either writing code in Python or doing some pen-and-paper math. Usually the math is just algebra, but on good days it's derivatives or integrals.

During my Ph.D., my projects focused on developing better methods for clustering text articles from the New York Times or finding recurring patterns in sequential data like genomes or motion capture videos. When I started graduate school, there were lots of good models for these tasks, but the existing training algorithms did not handle more than a few hundred examples and depended a lot on the quality of an initial guess. My adviser, labmates and I (and many others!) worked on scaling to millions of examples and being robust to poor initial guesses.

Now, as a post-doc, I'm excited about continuing to develop robust training algorithms for many possible elegant models. I'm also focused on applying these methods to improve clinical outcomes in the healthcare domain. My post-doc supervisor (Prof. Finale Doshi-Velez) is awesome at connecting us to medical collaborators. We are working with time-series data from over 30,000 intensive care unit (ICU) patients. Our goal is to help doctors make predictions about when treatments like ventilators or medications might be needed a few hours ahead of time and when these treatments can be safely stopped.

* You finally completed your PhD! Did it feel like it took a REALLY long time to do so?
Six years is LONG. Probably too long. Looking back, I could have maybe finished sooner but it was nice to go at a reasonable pace and usually take weekends off. I'm very lucky that I had the support of my family and the support of my loving and brilliant wife Heena (Class of 2010). She's finishing up the final year of her Ph.D. at MIT now. I'm very proud of her.

* What was the biggest surprise about going to grad school
Grad school can be a very solo journey, which was a rude awakening for me coming from the team-focused environment at Olin. I found it often way too hard to share data or share ideas across institutions, or even within an institution.

* Now you’re doing Post-doc research at Harvard.  How is a Post-doc different from getting your PhD?
As a post-doc I'm no longer a "student" in the official sense. So there are no required classes or coursework. I don't do any teaching, though some post-docs do. Instead, this is a temporary (1-2 year) position where my primary goal is to perform exciting research that lays a foundation for a career in academia or industry. My day-to-day life is similar to the last few years of my Ph.D. after I had finished all my classes, but without the stress of writing a thesis hanging over my head. As a senior member of my lab, I also help advise younger students.

* Any other exciting things you’ve done in that time?
First, I got married! Heena '10 and I got hitched in August 2016. I'm very blessed to have her in my life and for the support of our Olin friends throughout our relationship.

Second, Heena and I share many fun adventures across the US and abroad (Costa Rica, India, and more). We spent two weeks in July hiking and backpacking in Glacier, Banff, and Jasper national parks to celebrate my graduation.

 

Posted in: Graduate School