A New PhD Program for a New Generation of Biomedical Informaticians

Spanning the fields of data science and biomedical informatics, the Biomedical Informatics and Data Science PhD program prepares students to take their skills from the bench to the bedside and beyond.

In one lab, a clinical fellow, a computer science PhD student, and a biomedical informatics PhD student are collaborating on a research project. In another, a group led by a faculty expert in population health informatics is studying the relationship between Facebook connections and the spread of COVID-19.

These interdisciplinary collaborations happen by design within the Biomedical Informatics and Data Science (BIDS) PhD program, which is offered by the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences (DBBS) with faculty leadership from the Institute for Informatics (I2) and Division of Biostatistics.

“DBBS has for nearly five decades supported a mission of interdepartmental, interdisciplinary PhD training across two campuses at Washington University,” says Steven Mennerick, PhD, interim associate dean for graduate education at DBBS. “BIDS is our latest programmatic addition in support of this mission. We are delighted because this field touches virtually all others in 21st-century biosciences. All of our students require quantitative literacy, and we anticipate that BIDS will provide curricular offerings that enhance this competency for virtually all of our students.”

In short, the program aims to bring together biomedical informatics and data science to train a new generation of the workforce for jobs and careers that don’t even exist yet. “This is a team science approach to problem-based learning,” says Andrea Krussel, MA, director of education and workforce development for the Office of Health Information and Data Science. “We have students coming from computer science, basic science genomics, clinical backgrounds, data analytics. With this program, they have the opportunity to use their skills at the bench and take them out to the bedside with patient populations.”

Students accepted into the program can expect to:

  • Expand their knowledge in data science theories and applications and biomedical informatics.
  • Receive hands-on training, research, and industry experience in biomedical informatics and data science.
  • Enhance and apply their skills in translational science to real-world problem solving and knowledge dissemination.
  • Have the opportunity to collaborate with a wide range of faculty experts in informatics and biostatistics.
Dr. Payne, center, with BIDS students, from left, Abigail Lewis, Pablo Zubeldia, Sayantan Kumar and Sean Yu.

Through the coursework and hands-on experience, BIDS students will also be able to personalize their own pathway and prepare to enter careers in academia or industry. While they will take the same core curriculum, students can customize their electives based on their knowledge, expertise, and desired track.

“People don’t always wake up wanting to become a biomedical informatician,” Krussel says. “While this program is great for people who know they want to go into biomedical informatics or data science, it’s also useful for those seeking a career change and those who are in the workforce and have discovered this is the direction they want to go.”

“Biomedical informatics and data science are increasingly becoming the foundation for modern research, clinical practice, and population health initiatives, given the growing volumes, velocities, and variability of data we encounter in such settings,” says Philip R.O. Payne, PhD, director of the Institute for Informatics and chief data scientist for the School of Medicine. “The BIDS PhD program is ideally positioned to prepare the biomedical workforce of the future, capable of rising to these challenges and opportunities. Importantly, the program emphasizes not only a theoretical understanding of the field, but also demonstrated ability to implement biomedical informatics and data science theories and methods to impact real-world problems.”

“We have students coming from computer science, basic science genomics, clinical backgrounds, data analytics. With this program, they have the opportunity to use their skills at the bench and take them out to the bedside with patient populations.” –Andrea Krussel, MA, director of education and workforce development for the Office of Health Information and Data Science