From Physics to Analytics

A clinical research data manager expands her career horizons.

Written by Philip Baker
Melissa McHugh

At the University of Chicago Medical Center, Melissa McHugh was hired to manage patient data for genitourinary oncology-focused clinical trials. Among the first things she learned in her job was that she would benefit from more analytics training. Enter the University of Chicago's Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics (MScBMI)

“It’s a very well-rounded program,” McHugh says. “You take classes in leadership, in ethics, in the latest technologies—you really feel brought up-to-date in everything that matters. I didn’t know much about the field of biomedical informatics before entering the program, but given the area of focus of my career, the program made perfect sense for me.”

As enthusiastic as she was about biomedical informatics, McHugh felt anxious about the program's computer science requirements. While majoring in physics as an undergraduate, her programming courses had left something to be desired. It was a great relief, then, when she took Anoop Mayampurath's applied analytics class and discovered she loved it. 

"The class was pitched to people at all different levels and backgrounds," McHugh explains. In it, Mayampurath introduced her to the R programming language and assigned a final project comprised of real-world data. "By the end, I really felt like I’d learned a lot, and I enjoy using R now. It was particularly rewarding to do a full experiment working with a real data set and real-world scenario.”

In order to graduate, MScBMI students must complete a Capstone Project with an industry or University partner. This culminating experience puts into practice all that they have learned. Working in her office at the University of Chicago Medical Center, McHugh designed a research note template that pulls reports directly from Epic, making the data management process more efficient. 

McHugh cannot wait to explore new career opportunities with her new credentials: "The BMI program has shown me how the field is growing and all the new career possibilities emerging within it, so I’m looking forward to what will open up for me in the future.”

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