Rebecca Crowley Jacobson, MD, MS, FACMI

Current Affiliation: Associate Professor of Biomedical InformaticsCIO, Institute for Personalized Medicine, University of PittsburghEducation:  MD, University of PittsburghMS (Information Science), University of Pittsburgh

How do I describe my work to those outside the field…

I normally say that I work at the intersection of computer and information sciences with medicine and that the goal of what I do is to create computer based systems that improve biomedical research and healthcare.

Years of experience: 18, including my training years

Why informatics?

I really wandered around through various fields for a while and that was because I had 3 general areas that I really loved, and I was considering all of them. One of them was the biological sciences, and I spent a lot of my time in college and then in medical school working on neuroscience. I was a Howard Hughes Fellow studying gene expression of hypothalamic neuroendocrine system; I also really loved the arts and was in dance companies, I did visual arts, I did a lot of music. The third thing I loved and had a passion for was computer science.

My interest in computer science actually went pretty far back, I was one of the initial cohort of 6th graders in the Brookline [Massachusetts] public school system in the 1970s that got additional instruction in the BASIC computer language and we went to the high school to use the VAX system, which, in the 1970s, was pretty unusual for grade school. It was very early to be doing that. So even from a very early age I had a real enjoyment of computer programming. I was constantly looking for something that would combine science, and programming and the arts, and I really found it in informatics. It’s a very creative science.

Do you come from a scientific family?

I do come from a scientific family. My dad was a Professor of Medicine and also a Professor of Biochemistry and my mom was a carbohydrate biochemist.

What are your ambitions? At the end of your career, what do you hope to have accomplished?

Two things. One is I really like making things. I like making systems. That’s a very practical goal.

The second thing I want to do is to impact the education of the next generation of informaticists. In some ways that, to me, at this stage of my career, that’s probably more important than anything. I really want to help the young people in this field in their formative years so that they can do things that advance our field and go far beyond what we’ve done.

Who or what are your “key sources” in the informatics field?

I would say it’s people, definitely. I look to the senior informaticists who have a lot of history. They’ve seen a lot. The people for instance on the ACMI list. I look to them as an indicator of what the future holds, but I also try to get my information broadly, as much as possible. Not only from informatics, but also from biology, from healthcare, from the patient safety literature and other places, cognitive science literature is interesting to me.

Within informatics, I really do pay attention to publications like JAMIA, Journal of Biomedical Informatics, Artificial Intelligence in Medicine, Methods of Information Medicine,  But I also really value the open access journals like PLoS and BMC.

Articles that spotlight my research interests...

Crowley RS, Legowski E, Medvedeva O, Reitmeyer K, Tseytlin E, Castine M, Jukic D, Mello-Thoms C. Automated detection of heuristics and biases among pathologists in a computer-based system. Adv in Health Sci Educ, Theory and Practice. 2013 Aug; 18(3): 343-63. PMCID:PMC3728442

Lui K, Hogan WR, Crowley RS. Natural Language Processing Methods and Systems for Biomedical Ontology Learning. J Biomed Inform. 2011 Feb;44(1):163-79. PMCID: PMC2990796

Crowley RS, Castine M, Mitchell KJ, Chavan G, McSherry T, Feldman M.  caTIES - A Grid Based System for Coding and Retrieval of Surgical Pathology Reports and Tissue Specimens In Support Of Translational Research. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2010 May 1;17(3):253-64.  PMCID: PMC2995710

What are your hobbies? Interests outside of AMIA? Passions?

I don’t dance anymore but I still do music, I still love to play the piano. And I go to a lot of concerts with my family, with my kids, with my husband. And my house is filled with musical instruments of all my kids. To me that remains a very important part of my life.

AMIA is important to me because…

AMIA is important to me because it’s the intersection of everybody working in informatics. You can go to an AMIA conference and be exposed to an enormous variety, the whole breadth of what is going on. So in that sense it is the ‘center of town’.

I am involved with AMIA…

I have been involved in the past in scientific program committees on and off over the years, and also for many years as a reviewer.

It may surprise people to know…

That I have two other family members who do informatics! In that sense, I just went into the family business.

See more Faces of AMIA.