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Mert Pilanci

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I’m an assistant professor in the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

Prior to joining University of Michigan, I was a Math+X postdoctoral fellow working with Emmanuel Candes at Stanford University. I received my Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from UC Berkeley in 2016. My Ph.D. advisors were Martin Wainwright and Laurent El Ghaoui, and my studies were supported partially by a Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship.

Research Interests: Large Scale OptimizationMachine Learning and Big DataSignal ProcessingCompressed SensingInformation Theory and Polar Coding

Michelle Aebersold

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Michelle Aebersold, PhD, is Clinical Associate Professor of Nursing, School of Nursing, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Dr. Aebersold’s professional and academic career is focused on advancing the science of learning applied in simulation to align clinician and student practice behaviors with research evidence to improve learner and health outcomes.  She focuses her scholarship in both high fidelity and virtual reality simulation and is a national leader and expert in simulation. Her scholarship has culminated in developing the Simulation Model to Improve Learner and Health Outcomes (SMILHO).

Current Research Grants and Programs:

  • Closing the loop: new data tools for measuring change in the quality for nursing education and the value of new approaches to instruction (PI) University of Michigan School of Nursing.
  • Interactive anatomy-augmented virtual simulation training (PI with Voepel-Lewis) Archie MD Award Number 045889

Profile: Building a Better Nurse

By Dan Meisler
Communications Manager, ARC

Michelle Aebersold has spent her career trying to “build a better nurse,” through training development, virtual clinical environments, and patient simulations.

As Director of Simulation and Educational Innovation at the U-M School of Nursing, Aebersold is focused on creating realistic learning environments for nursing students.

But it wasn’t until relatively recently that she realized she had an under-utilized but powerful tool at her disposal — data.

For years, Aebersold has been collecting data on how student performance is affected by participation in various simulations, but it wasn’t until speaking to faculty from the Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS) that she realized the potential insights all of her historical datasets might have hidden inside.

“We’re trying to pull them all together to create a common thread, so that as we collect data on our students, we can follow them to say how they progressed. How many simulations and what type of simulations did they get and how did that impact their learning?” Aebersold said. “We hit students with a lot of simulations while they’re in school, but we don’t necessarily know which ones are better for certain things.”

Now, as MIDAS core faculty member, Aebersold will be able to easily collaborate with other MIDAS researchers to refine and analyze her data.

Eventually, she said, she’d like to be able to track nursing students as they enter their first jobs to see how their training translates to real-world performance. And a further goal for Aebersold is to help the practice of nursing education become similar to the training world-class athletes receive, in which, for example, subjects review videos of their performance to identify what works and what doesn’t.

“We’re going to introduce some things, like what can we do with virtual simulations, or what can we do with eye-tracking,” she said. “We really want to try to dive deeper, by being able to put all this information together using a lot of these data science methods.”

Aebersold has been at U-M since the mid-1980s, serving in a variety of clinical and administrative roles. She earned a Ph.D in Nursing from the University in 2008, and served as Director of the Clinical Learning Center in the School of Nursing for eight years thereafter. Since 2016, she’s been Director of Simulation and Educational Innovation.

One of Aebersold’s recent projects, “Closing the Loop: New Data Tools for measuring Changes in the Quality of Nursing Education,” applies modern data-science tools to help understand the correlation between traditional tests and student skills and competence when they enter the workforce, and whether simulations coupled with debriefing sessions translate into improvements in skills and in test outcomes.

Another potential project will focus on comparing the eye movements of novice nurses to expert nurses. Aebersold said initial findings have shown that nurses with more experience tend to focus their eyes on one thing for longer periods of time than those with less.

She said she’s enlisting help on that work from professors in the School of Information at U-M.

“By really understanding the difference between how experts do things and novices do things, you can help develop simulations that help novices get better,” Aebersold said.

She credits her father with starting her on the path to becoming a nurse; he was a police officer, and would sometimes take her to the local emergency room.

“I loved the fast pace,” she recalled, and the chance to have a real, positive impact on people’s lives.

After earning a nursing degree from Madonna University, she became a critical care nurse. She then gravitated toward supervision and administration, gaining a masters in business administration, also from Madonna University. She earned her Ph.D. from U-M while working as a nurse manager at the U-M health System.

She said all the technology, data, and innovative modes of study she’s brought together are all in service of one goal.

“For me, it all comes down to how can we make the patient care environment safer for our patients,” she said.

Zhenke Wu

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Zhenke Wu is an Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, and a core faculty member in the Michigan Institute of Data Science (MIDAS). He received his Ph.D. in Biostatistics from the Johns Hopkins University in 2014 and then stayed at Hopkins for his postdoctoral training before joining the University of Michigan. Dr. Wu’s research focuses on the design and application of statistical methods that inform health decisions made by individuals, or precision medicine. The original methods and software developed by Dr. Wu are now used by investigators from research institutes such as CDC and Johns Hopkins, as well as site investigators from developing countries, e.g., Kenya, South Africa, Gambia, Mali, Zambia, Thailand and Bangladesh.

Profile: At a “sweet spot” of data science

By Dan Meisler
Communications Manager, ARC

If you had to name two of the more exciting, emerging fields of data science, electronic health records (EHR) and mobile health might be near the top of the list.

Zhenke Wu, one of the newest MIDAS core faculty members, has one foot firmly in each field.

“These two fields share the common goal of learning from the experience of the population in the past to advance health and clinical decisions for those to follow. I am looking forward to more work that will bring the two fields closer to continuously generate insights about human health.” Wu said. “I’m in a sweet spot.”

Wu joined U-M in Fall 2016, after earning a PhD in Biostatistics from Johns Hopkins University, and a bachelor’s in Mathematics from Fudan University. He said the multitude of large-scale studies going on at U-M and access to EHR databases were factors in his coming to Michigan.

“The University of Michigan is an exciting place that has a diversity of large-scale databases and supportive research groups in the fields I’m interested in,” he said.

Wu is collaborating with the Michigan Genomics Initiative, which is a biorepository effort at Michigan Medicine to integrate genome-wide information with EHR from approximately 40,000 patients undergoing anesthesia prior to surgery or diagnostic procedures. He’s also collaborating with Dr. Srijan Sen, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, on the MIDAS-supported project “Identifying Real-Time Data Predictors of Stress and Depression Using Mobile Technology,” the preliminary results of which recently matured into an NIH-funded R01 project “Mobile Technology to Identify Mechanisms Linking Genetic Variation and Depression” that will draw broad expertise from a multi-disciplinary team of medical and data science researchers.

A visualization of data from the Michigan Genomics Initiative

“One of my goals is to use an integrated and rigorous approach to predict how a person’s health status will be in the near future,” Wu said.

Wu applies hierarchical Bayesian models to these problems, which he hopes will shed light on phenomena he describes as latent constructs that are “well-known, but less quantitatively understood, e.g., intelligence quotient (IQ) in psychology.”

As another example, he cites the current challenge in active surveillance of prostate cancer patients for aggressive tumors requiring removal and/or radiation, or indolent tumors permitting continued surveillance.

“The underlying status of aggressive versus indolent cancer is not observed, which needs to be learned from the results of biopsy and other clinical measurements,” he said. “The decisions and experience of urologists and their patients will greatly benefit from more accurate understanding of the tumor status… There are lots of scientific problems in clinical, biomedical, behavioral and social sciences where you have well-known but less quantitatively understood latent constructs. These are problems that Bayesian latent variable methods can formulate and address.”

Just as Wu has a hand in two hot-button big data areas, he also sees himself as straddling the line between application and methodology.

He says the large number of data sources — sensors, mobile apps, test results, and questionnaires, to name just a few — results in richness as well as some “messiness” that needs new methodologies to adjust, integrate and translate to new scientific insights. At the same time, a valid new methodology for dealing with, for example, electronic health data, will likely find numerous different applications.

Wu says his approach was heavily influenced by his work in the Pneumonia Etiology Research for Child Health (PERCH) funded by the Gates Foundation while he was at Johns Hopkins. Pneumonia is a clinical syndrome due to lung infection that can be caused by more than 30 different species of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. The goal of the seven-country study that enrolled more than 5,000 cases and 5,000 controls from Africa and Southeast Asia is to estimate the frequency with which each pathogen caused pneumonia in the population and the probability of each individual being infected by the list of pathogens in the lung.

“In most settings, it is extremely difficult to identify the pathogen by directly sampling from the site of infection – the child’s lung. PERCH therefore looked for other sources of evidence by standardizing and comprehensively testing biofluids collected from sites peripheral to the lung. Using hierarchical Bayesian models to infer disease etiology by integrating such a large trove of data was extremely fun and exciting”, he said.

Wu’s initial interest in math, leading to biostatistics and now data science, stems from what he called a “greedy” desire to learn the guiding principles of how the world works by rigorous data science.

“If you have new problems, you can wait for other people to ask a clean math question, or you can go work with these messy problems and figure out interesting questions and their answers,” he said.

For more on Dr. Wu, see his profile on Michigan Experts.

Yang Chen

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Yang Chen received her Ph.D. (2017) in Statistics from Harvard University and then joined the University of Michigan as an Assistant Professor of Statistics and Research Assistant Professor at the Michigan Institute of Data Science (MIDAS). She received her B.A. in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics from the University of Science and Technology of China. Research interests include computational algorithms in statistical inference and applied statistics in the field of biology and astronomy.

Bhramar Mukherjee

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Bhramar Mukherjee is  a Professor in the Department of Biostatistics, joining the department in Fall, 2006. Bhramar is also a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology. Bhramar completed her Ph.D. in 2001 from Purdue University. Bhramar’s principal research interests lie in Bayesian methods in epidemiology and studies of gene-environment interaction. She is also interested in modeling missingness in exposure, categorical data models, Bayesian nonparametrics, and the general area of statistical inference under outcome/exposure dependent sampling schemes. Bhramar’s methodological research is funded by NSF and NIH.   Bhramar is involved as a co-investigator in several R01s led by faculty in Internal Medicine, Epidemiology and Environment Health sciences at UM. Her collaborative interests focus on genetic and environmental epidemiology, ranging from investigating the genetic architecture of colorectal cancer in relation to environmental exposures to studies of air pollution on pediatric Asthma events in Detroit. She is actively engaged in Global Health Research.

Adriene Beltz

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The goal of my research is to leverage network analysis techniques to uncover how the brain mediates sex hormone influences on gendered behavior across the lifespan. Specifically, my data science research concerns the creation and application of person-specific connectivity analyses, such as unified structural equation models, to time series data; these are intensive longitudinal data, including functional neuroimages, daily diaries, and observations. I then use these data science methods to investigate the links between androgens (e.g., testosterone) and estradiol at key developmental periods, such as puberty, and behaviors that typically show sex differences, including aspects of cognition and psychopathology.

A network map showing the directed connections among 25 brain regions of interest in the resting state frontoparietal network for an individual; data were acquired via functional magnetic resonance imaging. Black lines depict connections common across individuals in the sample, gray lines depict connections specific to this individual, solid lines depict contemporaneous connections (occurring in the same volume), and dashed lines depict lagged connections (occurring between volumes).

A network map showing the directed connections among 25 brain regions of interest in the resting state frontoparietal network for an individual; data were acquired via functional magnetic resonance imaging. Black lines depict connections common across individuals in the sample, gray lines depict connections specific to this individual, solid lines depict contemporaneous connections (occurring in the same volume), and dashed lines depict lagged connections (occurring between volumes).

Stephanie Teasley

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Dr. Teasley’s research has focused on issues of collaboration and learning, looking specifically at how sociotechnical systems can be used to support effective collaborative processes and successful learning outcomes. As Director of the LED lab, she leads learning analytics-based research to investigate how instructional technologies and digital media are used to innovate teaching, learning, and collaboration. The LED Lab is committed to providing a significant contribution to scholarship about learning at Michigan and in the broader field as well, by building an empirical evidentiary base for the design and support of technology rich learning environments.

Pascal Van Hentenryck

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Pascal Van Hentenryck’s research is focused on artificial intelligence, data science, and optimization, with applications in mobility and transportation, energy systems, and computational social choice. He is currently leading the RITMO project, partly funded by MIDAS, which focuses on designing novel models of mobility, mathematical and algorithmic approaches to operate them optimally, and software architectures and data-privacy mechanisms to deploy them. The RITMO project is also in the process of deploying its technology in a number of significant case studies, with a particular focus on social equity.

Tracking Shuttle Bus Location & Ridership

Josh Pasek

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Josh Pasek is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Faculty Associate in the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan.  His substantive research explores how new media and psychological processes each shape political attitudes, public opinion, and political behaviors.  Josh also examines issues in the measurement of public opinion including techniques for incorporating social trace data as a means of tracking attitudes and behaviors.  Current research evaluates whether the use of online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter might be changing the political information environment, and assesses the conditions under which nonprobability samples, such as those obtained from big data methods or samples of Internet volunteers can lead to conclusions similar to those of traditional probability samples.  His work has been published in Public Opinion Quarterly, Political Communication, Communication Research, and the Journal of Communication among other outlets.  He also maintains two R packages for producing survey weights (anesrake) and analyzing weighted survey data (weights).