Lifetime of Learning
Program: Ph.D. in Informatics, cheminformatics track, 2016
Hometown: London, England
Best of SoIC: "It's about both the big picture and small picture perspectives."
Jeremy Yang is taking the long and winding road to a Ph.D.
He was born just north of London, England, and moved to the United States when he was young. His family settled first in New York, and when he struck out on his own, he bounced around to a number of places.
He did his undergraduate work in electrical engineering at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Next he pursued a master’s in education from the University of California at Berkeley. A couple of years after finishing his master’s, Yang was hired by Daylight Chemical Information Systems as a research scientist.
“That company’s thrust was that chemistry and drug discovery was increasingly becoming an information science. Being a part of it was very exciting,” Yang says. “That was quite inspiring to me.”
He spent 13 years at Daylight before moving on to OpenEye Scientific Software where he spent five years as the vice president of support. In Oct. 2007, he became the manager of systems and programming at the University of New Mexico where he is a scientific software developer and manager in the Translational Informatics Division for the Department of Internal Medicine.
Along the way he connected with David Wild, now an associate professor of informatics at SoIC but then a post-doctoral fellow at Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research. The two kept in touch, and Yang made the decision to pursue his doctorate along the cheminformatics track, with Wild as his advisor, despite the fact he was living in the American southwest.
“It was David Wild, IU, and SoIC’s leadership in this important new area that drew me,” Yang says.
Yang’s research involves the integration of heterogeneous biomedical data ranging from genome-wide sequencing through clinical electronic medical records of actual patients.
“The idea is that all of that data relates to medicines or treatments and how we might better improve human health and health care,” Yang says. “It goes all the way from research to clinical. It’s all about being evidence-based and data-driven. Why would you not want to integrate all the knowledge you have to help that person, or make that discovery and add to the information?”
Collecting and analyzing the data could aid in the key area of early-phase drug discovery. It’s a positive to have a mountain of data at a researcher’s disposal, but disseminating what drug leads to follow-up on given limited time and resources is a daily challenge. Computational research not only is quicker and cheaper, but it can help identify early drug leads or find drugs that target genes of proteins.
“Accessing knowledge and reasoning through it with the appropriate statistics might not actually find the needle in the haystack, but you can narrow the whole stack,” Yang says. “Plus, you can have a totally failed experiment and still not mess up all your apparatus. You can just reboot the computer.”
Although he has been in the health care field for years, Yang is excited about what the future will bring.
“Health care and health science just keeps advancing and broadening in such a way that it’s absolutely stimulating,” Yang says. “You can read in popular newsmagazines about how our health care system has undergone massive changes, and it all comes back to informatics. Being a part of that and thinking it will result in an improvement in human health and well-being is pretty cool.”
Yang says IU’s unique approach to his circumstances shows SoIC’s ability to stay on the cutting edge while also looking out for its students.
“I’m an older student,” Yang says. “I’m going to turn 55, so I’m a life-long learner. I think IU is on the forefront of informatics. The reorganization of computer science, informatics and library science has been absolutely visionary. It was the right move, and IU is a cool place that seems to be able to make those kinds of changes.”