Indra Neil Sarkar, PhD, MLIS

Current Affiliation: Director of Biomedical Informatics and Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, College of Medicine, University of VermontEducation: BSc (Microbiology) Lyman Briggs, Michigan State UniversityPhD (Biomedical Informatics) College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia UniversityMLIS (Library Science) iSchool, Syracuse University

How do you describe your work to those outside the field?

The way that I describe what we do to those outside the field is that we think of ways to transform available biological and health data into information that can be used for providing knowledge about disease and well-being. An analogy of what we do is similar to what physicists do relative to the natural world, we informaticians do within the world of biomedicine.

Why informatics?

I guess because it’s a truly trans-disciplinary discipline that is perfect for my own “lack of focus” – there are so many possible questions that one might want to ask and I want to develop ways to address many of them. It’s the perfect match for someone who dabbles in both biology and health care, and wants to develop ways to better understand disease and identify potential cures.

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

I don’t think much about what I myself would want to leave, but would want to be thought of as part of a group that has contributed scientifically and has had some input on the development and application of methodologies towards better understanding disease as well as making biologists, clinicians, and public health workers’ jobs a little easier. That’s on the scientific side. On the educational side, I really want to hopefully have left a mark on the development of a pipeline of informaticians that spans all the way back to high school, through undergraduate, and up to graduate school because I think there is an opportunity there for us to inspire the next generation, but that has to start earlier.

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

One of the great things about informatics and where we are in the discipline is that it’s still relatively young. We’re no longer an emerging discipline, but my main sources are a network of collaborators and colleagues, many of them are those who are founders and leaders of the many aspects of our field. I could list all of them, but that would be a very long list. If I had to pick one person whose writings I really value, and every book that he puts out and everything he writes I think is very visionary and helps temper where the field is and help us see where it is going would be Morris F. Collen. And then of course the 3 major journals in our discipline that I read the most: JAMIA, JBI and Methods of Information in Medicine.

Articles that spotlight my research interests:

Sharma V, Sarkar IN. Leveraging concept-based approaches to identify potential phyto-therapies. J Biomed Inform. 2013 Aug;46(4):602-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2013.04.008. Epub 2013 May 9. PubMed PMID: 23665360; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3723125.  

Tharp WG, Sarkar IN. Origins of amyloid-β. BMC Genomics. 2013 Apr 30;14:290. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-14-290. PubMed PMID: 23627794; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3660159.  

Sarkar IN. A vector space model approach to identify genetically related diseases. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2012 Mar-Apr;19(2):249-54. doi: 10.1136/amiajnl-2011-000480. Epub 2012 Jan 6. PubMed PMID: 22227640; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3277619.

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

When I’m not doing informatics, which is probably most of every waking hour because it’s much of what I enjoy thinking about, I love to explore the natural world. Visiting botanical and zoological gardens, natural history museums, is something that I greatly value and enjoy. Reading about the natural world is actually something I spend a lot of time doing. Favorites include the Smithsonian National Zoo and the US Botanic Garden (often visited when attending the AMIA Annual Symposium when it is in DC). When not visiting zoos or gardens, I relish every moment that I spend with my two-year-old son and wife (who also is a biomedical informatician) along with our two dogs, two cats, and marine fish tank.

AMIA is important to me because …

It’s my professional home.

I am involved with AMIA …

 I am and have been involved with AMIA at many levels, including being part of the scientific program committee for a number of meetings, being the current chair of the Education Committee and also being a member of the Board of Directors.

It may surprise people to know …

One of the hobbies that I’ve picked up over the last 10 years or so is knitting. I started knitting because it just seemed like a great activity that one has to be focused on and not “techy” in any way – all I need are two sticks and a ball of yarn. While I don’t get much chance to actually knit as much as I wish I could, I do love knitting and find it to be therapeutic. I don’t do anything fancy, it’s just a simple stitch but I make lots of scarves. Can’t have too many when living in Vermont.

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