Frequently asked questions about the Biomedical Informatics name change to Biomedical Data Science
Why is the name of the BMI training program changing?
The Biomedical Informatics Program (formerly called BMI) is now the formal PhD program of the Biomedical Data Science Department. Adopting the same name for the graduate degree program and the department would improve clarity of communications and enable us to streamline operations.
In 2021, the Biomedical Informatics program (BMI) was integrated into the Biomedical Data Science Department (DBDS), changing its standing from an Interdepartment Program (IDP) to a graduate program with DBDS as its home department. This is an appropriate time to transition the BMI name to DBDS. It will send a clear message that the department has expanded in scope and now includes a PhD and MS degree program that central to the mission of the department. In almost all cases, the name of the department at Stanford is also the name of the degree program.
Why can’t we continue to keep both BMI and DBDS?
Currently there is considerable confusion about the Biomedical Informatics program and the department of Biomedical Data Science. There are BMI and DBDS course offerings in the Stanford catalog (BIOMEDIN and BIODS), and there are “BMI faculty” and “DBDS faculty.” We often hear questions from faculty and students across Stanford as well as prospective students about the distinction. The name change will allow us to consolidate and streamline our systems and communications, which will eliminate confusion and reduce operating time and costs.
Do other degree programs in the School of Medicine have the same department and training program name?
The current BMI degree program name is also often confused with other terms in the School of Medicine. For instance, the BMI program is frequently associated with “BMIR,” which is the The Stanford Center for Biomedical Informatics Research in the Department of Medicine and some students and faculty are under the impression that BMI students are part of that center. Also, some people in School of Medicine and outside potential partners have commented that “BMI” is most closely associated with “body mass index” and thought it was odd and confusing to have the degree program with the same acronym.
Why choose the term Biomedical Data Science?
Name connotations are evolving. “Biomedical Data Science” more closely aligns with the mission of the department and projects a more current, broader and inclusive impression than “Biomedical Informatics”
The mission of the department is to “advance precision health by leveraging large, complex, multi-scale real-world data through the development and implementation of novel analytical tools and methods.” The name of the degree program should reflect that vision as well.
The term “Biomedical Data Science” is more closely tied to methodologies and approaches, according to faculty and students, and is viewed as a more current term to describe what BMI students are doing in their studies and research.
Do the faculty and the students support this change?
In an April 2022 faculty strategy session, participants said that the term “Biomedical Data Science” brought to mind words such as methods, approaches, machine learning and data versus the term “Biomedical Informatics” which had less association with methods/approaches and more association with words such as information, records and knowledge management.
- BMI students in a separate strategy session gave similar associations of “Biomedical Data Science” tied to methods, approaches, machine learning and AI.
- A number of students noted impressions of “Biomedical Informatics” as more about enabling access to data and less about transforming data to new knowledge.
In recent surveys, roughly two-thirds of BMI students and faculty responded that they preferred the degree program name “Biomedical Data Science” over the current name “Biomedical Informatics.” In informal conversations with DBDS faculty and staff, students have mentioned that Biomedical Data Science is clearer to prospective employers, and can lead to higher-salaried jobs.
Interestingly, the faculty and students were also asked if we should combine names for the degree program to be “Biomedical Informatics and Data Science.” This was not received well and consistently scored lower than changing the name to “Biomedical Data Science” or leaving the name as it stands today.
How do our external partners and alumni feel about the name change?
Potential external partners and alumni gave additional feedback during informal conversations earlier this year. Most said that said that Biomedical Data Science sounded broader or overarching, and several mentioned “Biomedical Informatics” as “outdated.” Others viewed “Biomedical Informatics” as a part of “Biomedical Data Science,” implying that “Biomedical Data Science” is broader and more comprehensive and subsumes “Biomedical Informatics.”
The input from faculty, students and outside parties shows that “Biomedical Data Science” has much stronger impressions associated with the mission of the department, and much more positive impressions overall.
Is this the first time Biomedical Informatics has changed its name?
This is not the first time the degree program name change has been requested. The degree program changed names from “Medical Informatics Science” to “Biomedical Informatics” in 2000 to more accurately reflect the work in the program at that time, namely the introduction of genomics data. As such, the field is an evolving one, and reasonable to expect every 20-plus years that the name may be slightly modified.
If BMI changes to DBDS, will the status of my NLM T15 grant change?
The NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM), a major funder of PhD students in the program, clearly acknowledges the growing recognition of “biomedical data science” as an important descriptor for the work in this field. NLM now states “Biomedical Informatics and Data Science Research Training Programs” in their funding title and on their main page. They have accepted Biomedical Data Science as well as Biomedical Informatics titled degree programs as part of their T15 initiative. They informed us that they have no issue with us changing the degree program name at Stanford, although the T15 grant name will remain “Biomedical Informatics” for the remainder of the five-year grant.
Regarding other top universities on the NLM T15 grant, both Harvard and Columbia have Departments of Biomedical Informatics where the training program sits. Their training program titles reflect their department names which is appropriate, and their visions are quite different than DBDS. Columbia continues to call their program “Biomedical Informatics” and their home page suggests a strong focus on information technologies. They emphasize three areas: design of clinical information systems, methodologies in clinical natural language processing, and machine learning over electronic health record data.
Harvard now calls their postdoctoral NLM program “The Biomedical Informatics and Data Science Research Training (BIRT) Program.” The Harvard Department of Biomedical Informatics states this mission: “To develop the methods, tools and infrastructure required for a new generation of biomedical investigators and care providers to move biomedicine, writ large, rapidly forward by taking full advantage of the insight and precision offered by these enormous data resources.”
Why can’t we retain the BMI name for our training program?
DBDS’s vision is different, with an interdisciplinary focus is at the intersection of bioinformatics, biostatistics and computer science. “Data Science” in the department and graduate program titles is more appropriate to capture the interdisciplinary vision and research that incorporates elements from each of the three key areas.
BMI and DBDS mean different things to me. BMI should be the best training program of its type in the world. Whot not keep the name and focus on that?
The BMI program has already been integrated into DBDS, and the faculty in DBDS are now actively engaged with students as research advisors, collaborators, and academic advisors. That is an added benefit for students. The training grant program still remains Biomedical Informatics in the five-year NLM T15 grant; however having the PhD graduate degree titled “Biomedical Data Science” will help broaden funding opportunities beyond the T15, as there are other grants with Biomedical Data Science sub-areas as the focus rather than bioinformatics.
BMI has a 40-year-old outstanding reputation as a leading degree program and pioneer in the field. Why lose that brand value with the change in name?
We will spend considerable effort in communications to ensure that everyone understands that the BMI program will continue with the same level of excellence and strong focus on solving critical challenges in precision health. Also, the name did change once already during the 40-year program and that transition was handled successfully. We will review the previous name transition for best practices to ensure that this transition will also be successful in preserving of the reputation of the BMI program.
I’m concerned that “Data Science” feels like it sells us short — we do advanced ML/AI and software implementation well beyond the scope of data science. Is the name representative?
In all communications regarding the name change we can clarify how we define the term data science and that our broad definition encompasses the advanced ML/AI approaches. Also, informatics does not capture the concept of advanced ML/AI. It is becoming more aligned with data engineering, in new vernacular. We can also clarify how “data science” is more appropriate than “computer science” in the program title. Computer science suggests hardware, assembly level coding, operating systems, etc. along with the algorithms. As mentioned above, DBDS sits at the intersection of computer science, bioinformatics and biostatistics. Singling out only one of these areas in the title would not send the right message about the interdisciplinary nature of DBDS work.