Luddy Indianapolis students already are benefiting from a 5-year program funded by a National Library of Medicine grant to promote careers in biomedical informatics and data science through short-term training programs for underrepresented minorities (URM).
Sarath Janga (above, left), Ph.D., associate professor of bioinformatics and data science and Saptarshi Purkayastha (above, right), Ph.D., associate professor of health Informatics and data science at IU’s Luddy School Informatics, Computing, and Engineering in Indianapolis, are the principal investigators for an R25 grant funding the DataWiz-IN Scholars Program for Biomedical Informatics Workforce in Indiana at the Luddy School.
Identifying the problem
A survey by the National Science Foundation found the number of students from underrepresented minority groups earning science and engineering degrees drops off noticeably at the Ph.D. level.
“While 21% of U.S. citizens and permanent residents awarded bachelor’s degrees in science or engineering were from URM backgrounds, this percentage decreased to 14% among doctoral degree recipients,” Janga noted, referencing the NSF Survey of Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.
He said this shift signifies a critical juncture in the educational journey where science and engineering students from underrepresented groups often exit the research landscape, particularly in fields like biomedical informatics and data science.
“This issue is amplified by the growing concern over biases inherent in informatics tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning, impacting applications in health care.”
Mentoring underrepresented students is key
To address this disparity, Indiana University Indianapolis (IUI) is among a dozen colleges and institutions nationwide to receive one of the National Library of Medicine’s Short-Term Research Education Experiences R25 grants. These awards focus on training in biomedical informatics and data science—two areas the library, part of the National Institutes of Health, has identified as fundamental to health research in the coming years.
The R25 awards focus on training in biomedical informatics and data science, encouraging a diverse pool of students to consider further academic pursuits and research careers. The grants given to fund programs at 12 institutes and universities represent a total investment of $8 million over five years ($1.6 million a year), the library says.
The short-term goal of the program is to prioritize comprehensive mentoring, emphasizing the utilization of biomedical research methods and skill development to nurture individuals towards further academic pursuits and research careers, and promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce.
In the long term, Janga says, the goal is to expand the pool of future research investigators from diverse backgrounds and to support the advancement of trainees in their scientific careers.
What is DataWiz?
The grant for the DataWiz-IN Scholars Program funded research internships for 14 students, from Indiana and other states, to work this past summer with Luddy Indianapolis and IUI faculty in multiple areas including clinical informatics, translational informatics, public health informatics, mobile health, bioinformatics, statistics and data analytics.
The recipients studied subjects including delirium, kidney disease, RNA databases, and drug repurposing for Alzheimer’s disease, using specialized databases, machine learning approaches, and other tools.
Students each received a stipend and housing. They learned computational and data science approaches needed for modern biomedical research, developed hands-on research skills, and created posters to summarize their findings. The students solved real research problems in the lab, benefitting from one-on-one mentorship with faculty including Janga, as well as Bohdan Khomtchouk, Hee-Tae Jung, and Juexin Wang, all Ph.D.s and assistant professors of bioinformatics or health informatics at the Luddy School.
“The DataWiz program brought a diverse cohort of students not only from Indiana, but from across the country, to provide rich research lab experiences on the IUI campus in a short period over the summer,” Janga says, “providing a pathway for creating the next generation of biomedical scholars.”
Applications will be accepted for the 2024 group of DataWiz summer interns in spring to do research in various biomedical data science labs on the Indiana University Indianapolis campus. Students are encouraged to apply here: https://datawiz.iupui.edu/how_to_apply.html
More information about the program and past scholars is available on the DataWiz website.
DataWiz students in 2023 included:
Aliza Islam graduated in Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering from Khulna University, Bangladesh. Following her studies, she took on leadership roles at VSO Bangladesh, an international NGO, before transitioning to a position at INFOSYS USA. She worked with Janga as a DataWiz participant. Currently, she is advancing her education, pursuing a Master’s in Bioinformatics through the Luddy School at Indiana University Indianapolis, with a keen interest in exploring the applications of nanopore sequencing technology in alternative RNA splicing.
A student at the University of South Florida Tampa, Charitie Martino worked with Hee-Tae Jung, Ph.D., at Luddy Indianapolis. Martino wrote about her experience in “How Does Research Inform Scientific Discovery?” for the National Library of Medicine website. She is continuing her summer research remotely with Jung through his lab on the topic of understanding the effects of visual complexity of virtual reality rehabilitation therapy solutions on the mental workload among individuals with TBI. She is currently applying for Ph.D. programs.
Simranjit Kaur Virk
Simranjit Kaur Virk completed her Graduation in Systems biology and Bioinformatics (2014) from Punjab University Chandigarh India. She has worked in U.S. health care Industry for 5 years. Now she is earning her M.S. in Bioinformatics, working with Janga through his lab at Luddy Indianapolis. Her current research interest lies in the using genome-wide association study to find meaningful biological information.