Graham School News

Health Informatics Instructors Discuss Cutting-Edge Topics at Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics Meet and Greet

Philip Baker

On June 11 at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center, the Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics (MScBMI) program hosted an instructor meet and greet where potential and prospective students were introduced to five instructors from the program to learn more about the courses they teach.  Instructors provided an overview of curriculum, learning objectives and methodologies used to teach students to understand, build, and improve informatics solutions that can help address the most significant challenges in healthcare today.

Up first was Nicholas Soulakis, PhD, a population health scientist and assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine whose research focus lies at the intersection of epidemiology and informatics. He gave a general overview of Population Health Informatics and Evaluation Methods in Health Informatics courses while highlighting the particular way in which informatics offers solutions to difficult problems.

“It’s a matter of learning how to ask good informatics questions,” he said. “That’s what this program is great for. We don’t just do the math. And we don’t just do the statistics either. We frame problems in order to determine whether our methodological approach is having a measurably good effect. You’re always going to have some black-box predictive technology plugged into a system and it’s the strength of your informatics question that will determine whether you’ve developed an answer that will serve you.”

Presenting next was Jason Edelstein, an information security professional who currently serves as the IT risk and compliance program manager at the University of Chicago. For the MScBMI program, Jason teaches Concepts in Computer Programming, a class whose lessons, he promised, would send students into the world with programming skills that may be applied to their day jobs.

“Whether you’re using a PC or a Mac or anything else,” Jason said, “you’re going to come out of my class ready to figure out exactly how the technology you use every day works and how you can make it work for you.”

By contrast, Larry Helseth, PhD, a translational bioinformatician at NorthShore University HealthSystem who teaches the Introduction to Bioinformatics course, noted that his course is “not a coding course. It’s a class trying to give you enough background that if you go on to a career in bioinformatics you’re comfortable working in that environment,” he said.

In particular, he explained how students in his class would learn about the basic software used to interpret genetic sequence data in humans and how to understand the effects an individual change in DNA has on the final protein.

As a co-instructor for the Capstone Project Implementation and Writing courses, Matthew Dapas, PhD, draws on his extensive experience analyzing different forms of clinical and biological data to help MScBMI students develop project-specific analytical frameworks and perform computational statistics.

Speaking about the capstone project in particular, Matthew called it “the culmination of the knowledge students gain during the program and intersects at the point where they start applying their knowledge to a project that’s based in the real world. It’s an incredible opportunity to gain experience in the field you’re interested in.”

Concluding the instructor presentations was Michael Baltasi, PhD, who in his role as executive director at the UChicago Center for Research Informatics oversees the financial and strategic planning, business development, and educational programming. Drawing on his experience as a financial analyst and in managerial roles in high tech and higher education settings, Michael teaches Leadership and Management for Informatics, a course designed to focus on the business problems of informatics.

Leadership and Management for Informatics is a high-energy, high-impact course,” he says. “It gathers up everything you do in all the other courses and creates a kind of mini-capstone. You’re bringing together not just the informatics and the technology, you’re also bringing together the financial piece, the marketing piece, and you’re developing an entire business proposal solution. The aims to give you that kind of broad and encompassing decision-making perspective.”

With the presentations concluded, the second phase of the evening began. Those curious to learn more had the opportunity to mingle over snacks and refreshments while discussing informatics issues with the instructors. Program staff were present to help answer questions about the MScBMI program and directed attendees to MScBMI online information sessions and application workshops for more information.