Welcome to the Inaugural Edition of the Population Health Data Science Newsletter!

We are very excited to share this new publication with you, providing updates and information from the Population Health Data Science (PHDS) program. It’s been a busy but wonderful first nine months since the launch of the PHDS program. We have truly enjoyed connecting with all of you and hope our various activities have helped generate new research synergies, supported the development of new health data science research, and provided training opportunities in data science. In each of these periodic newsletters, we will provide a recap of our recent activities, highlight upcoming events, and shine a spotlight on members of the PHDS community. I hope you enjoy this issue and we look forward to seeing you at a PHDS event this spring!

Debbie Cheng
Professor, Department of Biostatistics
Director, Population Health Data Science Program

Reflecting on PHDS Events

Since our launch in Spring 2023, the Population Health Data Science program has been busy coordinating and hosting events to contribute to the goals of the program. The objectives of this program are to: 1) Generate research synergies by fostering collaborations across the multiple disciplines engaged in health data science; 2) Provide training and continuing education opportunities in population health data science; 3) Stimulate and support the development of novel health data science research.

Dr. Rafael Irizarry.

Our inaugural event took place on June 1, 2023, with the first installment of the Health Data Science Distinguished Speaker Series. Dr. Rafael Irizarry (Professor and Chair, Department of Data Science, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health) presented a seminar, entitled “What is Data Science?”, giving attendees an overview of the field of data science and what it encompasses. The speaker series is co-sponsored by the Hariri Institute for Computing, the Department of Biostatistics, and the Providence/Boston Center for AIDS Research.

Photos from the PHDS poster session and reception on September 7.

The first ever Population Health Data Science Poster Session and Reception took place on September 7, 2023 and brought together health data science scholars, trainees, and industry leaders from various disciplines across BU and beyond. Over 40 presenters showcased their work to nearly 100 attendees! We plan to make this an annual event that highlights health data science research at BU, fosters new collaborations, and creates opportunities for networking.

Dr. Roger Peng presenting on September 21.

Our next event on September 21, 2023 marked the second installment of the Health Data Science Distinguished Speaker Seminar Series. Dr. Roger Peng (Professor of Statistics and Data Sciences, University of Texas, Austin) delivered a presentation entitled, “Principles for Designing Complex Data Analyses.” Dr. Peng discussed the need to specify the craft of data analysis in more formal terms now that the data science revolution has touched all areas of society. He proposed a theoretical framework for the analytic process and described its potential for improving the quality of data analysis.

Dr. Zak Kohane presenting on October 17.
Group dinner with our speakers (L-R: Roger Peng, Joe Hogan, Debbie Cheng, Rafael Irizarry, Laura White)

On October 17, our Health Data Science Distinguished Speaker Seminar featured Dr. Zak Kohane (Professor and Chair, Department of Biomedical Informatics, Harvard Medical School), whose presentation “Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Medicine: Population Health” focused on the challenges and important next steps in AI, particularly after the emergence of Large Language Models.

(L-R) Dr. Debbie Cheng and Dr. Runi Chunara

In November, our Health Data Science Distinguished Speaker was Dr. Rumi Chunara (Associate Professor of Biostatistics, Computer Science and Engineering, New York University), who presented a seminar entitled “Machine Learning in Population Health: Challenges & Opportunities.” This talk focused on the development of machine learning methods to quantify complex concepts in population health and discussed the importance of using approaches grounded in theoretical and qualitative knowledge.

Names, headshots & project descriptions of PHDS SEED funding awardees
Our eight seed funding awardees and their project titles.

The Health Data Science Research on Tap event on November 29 was an exciting event that brought together approximately 75 health data scientists across Boston University. Faculty from a range of departments and schools at BU delivered lightning talks of their research: Dr. Neha Gondal, Dr. Jonathan Huggins, Dr. Heather Hsu, Dr. Vijaya Kolachalama, Dr. Kevin Lane, Dr. Judith Lok, Dr. Diane Joseph-McCarthy, Dr. Shariq Mohammed, Dr. Pawel Przytycki, Dr.  Kayoko Shioda, and Dr. Archana Venkataraman. Attendees of this event were invited to apply for seed funding awards with the goal of advancing data-driven, interdisciplinary science in health or biomedicine. Congratulations to the eight PIs who were selected to receive the seed funding awards: Jonathan Jay, Kevin Lane, Nicole McCann, Shariq Mohammed, Katie Parodi, Ashwini Ranade, Kayoko Shioda, and Jiujia Zhang!

(L-R) Dr. Vijaya Kolachalama and Dr. W. Evan Johnson.

In December, we held an Introduction to Machine Learning Workshop, led by Dr. Evan Johnson (Professor of Biostatistics and Medicine, Rutgers University) and Dr. Vijaya Kolachalama (Associate Professor of Medicine and Computer Science, Boston University). The workshop provided attendees with an overview of machine learning methods, including kernel-based methods, tree-based learning, and neural networks.

We hope you will join us for PHDS events this spring. Please visit the 2023-2024 events page on our website to learn more about upcoming events!


Spotlight on BU SHARE Data Science – A New Student Organization

Boston University Students in Population Health Advancing Research and Education in Data Science (BU SHARE Data Science) is a newly forming student organization at BUSPH. Debbie Cheng and Laura White are the faculty mentors of the organization. BU SHARE Data Science hopes to bring together graduate students interested in health data science through networking, mentorship, training, and outreach. We spoke to the five members of the group’s executive board to find out more!


Tell us about your background and how you became interested in the field of data science.

Sam Gebeh (2nd Year Epidemiology PhD Student): I am a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology with research interests in HIV and Emerging Infectious Diseases. Over the past few years, I have worked in the field of Public Health with a huge focus on infectious disease surveillance, epidemic preparedness, and response in Liberia, West Africa. I was also involved in the development of several public health policies, guidelines and interventions to improve population health outcomes in limited resource settings.

With the rapid increase and advancement in complex health data, I see Population Health Data Science as a great opportunity to generate evidence for better understanding the health of the population, guiding public health actions and, overall, improving population health.

What is your role in BU SHARE Data Science? What inspired you to help found this new student organization? 

Beverly Ge (2nd Year Environmental Health PhD Student): Currently I’m one of the co-chairs of the organization. I feel fortunate that a professor in our department recommended that Flannery and I join in the group’s earliest days. The opportunity immediately stood out to me because data science is embedded within so much of our work in the Environmental Health field, even if we don’t explicitly name it. There are so many benefits to developing skills in data science; no matter the dataset, you can be empowered to understand the story that it tells. Moreover, across different departments at BU, people gain expertise in different aspects of data science. I was therefore also excited by the possibility of bringing together folks to SHARE their knowledge (see what I did there?) and create new collaborations.

What is the purpose of BU SHARE Data Science, in your own words? 

Jordan Ahn (1st Year Biostatistics PhD Student): SHARE Data Science is a student-run organization working in collaboration with the PHDS program. Our primary goal is to create an environment where individuals of different fields and backgrounds can share their unique perspectives on health data science. Our current members range across a variety of fields such as environmental health, epidemiology, and biostatistics; we hope to further broaden the diversity of our organization in an effort to effectively explore a multifaceted field like health data science. We also plan to serve as a resource for students to develop concrete skills in data science, as well as create a collaborative network of passionate students through a mentorship program.

What is the status of the organization right now? 

Flannery Black-Ingersoll (2nd Year Environmental Health PhD Student): SHARE Data Science is currently awaiting approval to be established as an official student organization at BUSPH. We are in the process of planning events for Spring 2024 and would be happy to have more folks join us as we develop various programming events for this semester!

What kinds of activities is your group planning?

Ruby Barnard-Mayers (4th Year Epidemiology PhD Student): We are planning a number of activities. This coming semester we are focused on activities that will build and foster community for students interested in data science. We are planning a student social as our first networking event. We are also hoping to create a mentorship program for students to connect with data science faculty across the university.

Use this link to sign up to join the group, or pass it along to a BU graduate student who may be interested. 


PHDS Seed Funding Awardees

Names, headshots & project descriptions of PHDS SEED funding awardees

Congratulations to our eight seed funding awardees! The goal of these awards is to advance data-driven, interdisciplinary science in health or biomedicine. Awardees will receive a maximum award of $5,000 for a one-year period, which can be used to support BU trainees, research supplies, equipment, etc. We are excited to see what they accomplish and hear about the status of their projects at our second annual PHDS Poster Session and Reception in Fall 2024.

Upcoming Events