Science Alumni Spotlight: Hongfang Liu
I am a proud alumnus of the Computer Science PhD Program of CUNY Graduate Center, studying for my PhD 1998 to 2002. I am very grateful to the training opportunities offered to me. Having a baby in the first year of my PhD study, I am also extremely thankful to the fantastic affordable childcare support provided by the Child Development and Learning Center at Graduate Center.
My PhD advisor was Prof Carol Friedman, then at Queens College, who introduced me to the field of clinical natural language processing (NLP). Due to her connections with Columbia, Prof Friedman was able to obtain for me a research assistantchip for four years to work on clinical NLP in Department of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University. I was very fortunate to have this assistantship opportunity. Besides the financial stability, I received the top tier training in biomedical informatics and got to know the work of many pioneers in the field of biomedical informatics.
After graduation, I moved to the Washington DC area, first as an assistant professor in information systems at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in 2003, and later as an assistant professor in bioinformatics at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) in 2006. At the same time, I developed an interest in cancer research and had an opportunity to collaborate with cancer investigators from Lab of Molecular Pharmacology and Lab of Cell Science at National Cancer Institute. After multiple years of exploration, I was not comfortable as a bioinformatician or cancer researcher due to the lack of necessary background training. Driven by the desire to work on clinical data, in 2011 I relocated to the Mayo Clinic where I am the Director of the NLP program and an Associate Professor of Medical Informatics. The program currently consists of a dozen of researchers and software engineers. We are conducting the state-of-the-art research in clinical NLP and also translating research NLP tools for practical clinical use. Our team has been developing a suite of open-source NLP systems for accessing clinical information, such as medications or findings from clinical notes. My goal is to accelerate the pace of knowledge discovery, implementation and delivery for improved health care.
All together, the training I received from the CS PhD program was just outstanding. My memories about the PhD study are full of passion, excitement, friendship, and encouragement. My advice to incoming CS students would be to proactively develop critical thinking skills, be determined but open minded, and grasp opportunities.