A Letter from Kim Unertl, Director of the Vanderbilt Biomedical Informatics Summer Program (VBISP) 

Hi everyone,

One of our goals with the Vanderbilt Biomedical Informatics Summer Program (VBISP) is to give students a sense of the breadth of work in the biomedical informatics field – a topic that even those of us who have been in the field have a hard time with!
Our approach to this is to have twice-weekly seminar presentations from DBMI (and beyond) faculty, staff, and students. These seminars have consistently been ranked in past years as one of the most helpful components of the program, covering everything from the basics of core informatics methodologies to discussions of career paths and graduate school.
Thank you to everyone who is taking time out of their summer to help students learn more about the field. If you have ideas for next summer’s seminar series, let us know!
– Kim Unertl, PhD, MS, FACMI, Director of the VBISP and Graduate Studies, Associate Professor in DBMI

Table of Contents

  1. VBISP Announcements
  2. DBMI Spotlight: Abinitha Gourabathina, Cody Johnson, Clara Gimenez

VBISP Announcements – Save the Date

VBISP Group Design Challenge 

Final Presentations – July 30

Groups of students will be presenting their solution for the 2021 VBISP Design Challenge: Technology to Enhance Vaccine Literacy.
Throughout the summer, the VBISP students have been working in groups to identify ways to improve vaccine literacy, empower individuals and families to make informed decisions on vaccines and/or augment and complement public health recommendations. In this session, the groups will present their work to an expert feedback panel and others in DBMI. 
The final presentations will take place on Friday, July 30 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm CT.

VBISP Student Presentations – August 3-5

Each student will present their research project to attendees from DBMI and beyond, providing an overview of the research they’ve been working on with DBMI faculty this summer. Presentation titles and a list of presenters for each day will be sent out the week before these sessions. 

The student presentations will take place from Tuesday, August 3 to Thursday, August 5 from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm CT. Email Rischelle Jenkins at rischelle.jenkins@vanderbilt.edu if you have questions.

VBISP Spotlight: Abinitha Gourabathina

Abinitha Gourabathina was born and raised in Princeton, New Jersey. She is currently majoring in operational research and financial engineering and minoring in statistics, machine learning, computer science and linguistics at Princeton University.
Since childhood, Abinitha has always had an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – as well as art.
“I like to think about research as art,” Abinitha says. “Painting and graphic design are things I enjoy, so thinking about research creatively is important to me. There’s a beauty to it.”
She originally wanted to go into the medical field, but once she began working towards her actual interests, she realized that the wanted to pursue a quantitative research, as she was drawn to the creative and dynamic nature of research. Additionally, her early passion for linguistics paved the way for pursuits in machine learning and natural language processing. As a high school student, Abinitha published a linguistics paper in a book as the first author.
This past semester, Abinitha took a machine learning course and conducted several projects on various social justice topics using computer science and data analysis. Some of her projects included reviewing and comparing tweets that were for or against the Black Lives Matter movement, predicting success rates among children from broken homes based on gender, race and ethnicity, and analyzing police complaint databases. 
“Those experiences impacted my perception of technology and research because a lot of times, you do research and it’s highly theoretical and you don’t see the applications of it,” she explains. “You focus on the equations and don’t see what it represents. These projects helped me understand the purpose of this work."
Pictured right: Abinitha at Princeton's Sherrerd Hall, the Operations Research and Financial Engineering department building. 
Following her passion for research, she applied to several Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) biomedical informatics programs, including the VBISP. She was happy to be accepted to Vanderbilt’s program. 
Abinitha is working with Brad Malin, PhD, Vice Chair for Research Affairs in DBMI, Co-Director of the Health Data Science Center and the Center for Genetic Privacy and Identity in Community Settings and Accenture Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Biostatistics and Computer Science. Together, they are looking at data privacy with health care data and building a model based on the COVID pandemic. Pictured left: Dr. Malin.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” Abinitha says. “It’s interesting that so much of the research program is related to the Medical Center. I’ve also really valued having a mentor and I can now see what research and academia as a career looks like.”
“Abinitha is a quick study," says Dr. Malin. "Despite working virtually, she has successfully joined forces with my group of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. She’s getting her hands wet with our software, quantitative methods and electronic health records data. Though her research is in its early stages, she’s helping push forward the theory and practice of using clinical data to support public health.” 

Abinitha plans to pursue a doctorate in statistics after graduating from college. Good luck and welcome, Abinitha! Contact information: abinitha.gourabathina@vumc.org.

VBISP Spotlight: Cody Johnson

Cody Johnson hails from Centerville, Tennessee, and is currently majoring in computer science at Sewanee: The University of the South, which is located more than an hour southeast of Nashville. 
When Cody was a kid, he wanted to become a videogame developer “like many other five-year-olds,” he says with a laugh. He began his college career as a business major but switched to computer science after rediscovering his interest in technology and gaming. During his sophomore year, he developed a clone of the original Mario game! 
Pictured left: Cody, 2021. 
He was also intrigued by the adaptability of the computer science field and its wide use in medicine and research.  

“There’s always going to be a use for computer science,” he says. “It’s the Swiss Army knife of college majors. You can make computer programs to help people, like in biomedical informatics, and use AI or programming to assist people with certain illnesses.” 
Cody came upon the VBISP after discovering it through DBMI’s REU program. “It looked appealing to me because I always knew Vanderbilt was prestigious,” he says.  
Under the mentorship of Alex Cheng, PhD, Research Assistant Professor in DBMI, Cody is working on using optical mark recognition software to create paper versions of REDCap surveys in order to convert and record written data back into digital data within REDCap. He says he is excited to be working in DBMI and seeing how biomedical informatics “benefits people instead of corporations.” Pictured right: Dr. Cheng. 
"Cody has demonstrated a remarkable ability to take an idea and run with it," says Dr. Cheng. "His work integrating optical mark recognition for scanned paper forms with REDCap is of major interest to Research Participant Perception Survey leadership and the REDCap Consortium at large."
After graduating, Cody plans on either getting a master's degree or finding an industry job. When Cody is not gaming or programming, he enjoys fencing.  
Reach out to Cody if you are a fellow fencer! Contact information: cody.l.johnson@vumc.org. 

VBISP Spotlight: Clara Gimenez

Clara Gimenez was born and raised in North Brunswick, New Jersey. She is currently transitioning into her senior year at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she is studying biomedical engineering and minoring in math.

Both of Clara’s parents are bioenvironmental engineers and they often encouraged her to study science and math. Though she wasn’t as drawn to science as her parents were, she excelled in math and imagined herself becoming a doctor. However, Clara says she’s terrified of blood, so eventually followed in her parents’ footsteps towards biomedical engineering. “It relates to the medical field, and you can make strides without doing surgery,” she says.  
Her interest in biomedical informatics began as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After classes went online, she started rethinking the way that the field of medicine was delivered. Telemedicine became a big interest of hers and she was intrigued by how telehealth information was processed during COVID.
Her newfound interest in biomedical informatics and telemedicine brought her to the VBISP. 

“In addition to being a great bioinformatics program, I liked the fact that there were opportunities for professional development and attending seminars,” Clara says. “Those are things I don’t want to miss out on, especially with my goal of going to graduate school.”
For her internship, Clara is working with Laurie Novak, PhD, MHSA, FAMIA, Assistant Professor in DBMI, to analyze data from cancer patients, create a risk factor on the likelihood of readmission of those patients and present the data to clinicians and patients in a digestible manner.
“Clara is a highly engaged student," Dr. Novak says. "She is working on a few of the many challenges of integrating data from wearables (Fitbit) with clinical information. Clara is excited about learning new things and our team loves working with her!”

Clara hopes to pursue a master’s and potentially a doctorate degree. In the meantime, she is looking forward to making new connections with her VBISP peers and Vanderbilt’s DBMI faculty. “A big thank you for this opportunity; I’m excited to be learning even under these strange circumstances!” Clara says.
Welcome, Clara! Contact Information: clara.j.gimenez@vumc.org. 

Have questions about the summer program or the VBISP students? Let us know by emailing Kim Unertl at kim.unertl@vanderbilt.edu and Rischelle Jenkins at rischelle.jenkins@vanderbilt.edu.

Suggestions? Email dbmicomms@vumc.org.