Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chih-Lin Chi began work in the University of Iowa’s graduate program in informatics in 2004 without a project to pursue. Chi, a native of Taiwan, quickly learned that wasn’t a problem. The program’s interdisciplinary nature lends itself to providing countless research possibilities for students.

“The informatics program gives a lot of flexibility. You train yourself as a flexible entity,” Chi said. “You can grab knowledge from all disciplines. You can choose the professor you want. There is a diverse faculty at the school. You can find experts in management sciences and also engineering. From there, you can form your own project.”

Chi selected Nick Street, director of the health informatics program, as his advisor, and his research interests soon came into clear focus.

“(Street) influenced me a lot,” Chi said. “When he was my advisor, I didn’t know what project to pursue. He gave me direction until I found my own interests. Then he was a supportive faculty member as I pursued my own idea.”

Chi’s research at the UI culminated in his dissertation titled, “Machine learning-based decision support systems for personalized medical care.” His dissertation describes three new algorithms for constructing machine learning-based decision support systems. These new methods are applied to:

  1. individualized hospital referral that estimates personalized survival and complication probabilities in each hospital;
  2. individual, cost-effective diagnosis that determines individualized testing sequences to speed up diagnoses and reduce testing cost without losing diagnostic performance;
  3. individualized lifestyle recommendation that constructs patient-specific lifestyle changes to maximally reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“He walks in and starts inventing stuff. He’s very creative,” said Street, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the department of management sciences. “This guy is out there thinking of new ideas. He found his own projects and collaborators, and then found novel solutions.”

Chi earned his Ph.D. in health informatics in 2009 and currently is a research associate in the Laboratory of Personalized Medicine at the Harvard Medical School.