ONDRI Scholars training leads to impacts far and wide

Oct 21, 2021 | Blog, ONDRI Stories

“Being a part of the ONDRI community prepares you for many types of careers, even outside of the typical academic path. The transferable skills I gained and the diverse contacts and relationships I built, especially through the ONDRI Scholars program, gave me unique training that I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else”, said Derek Beaton, PhD.

Derek is a former postdoctoral fellow with ONDRI and is now the Director of Advanced Analytics in Data Science and Advanced Analytics at St. Michael’s Hospital, which is part of Unity Health Toronto.

The beginning

Derek came to ONDRI, and Toronto, through a postdoctoral research fellowship position at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences, where ONDRI’s neuroinformatics and biostatistics (NIBS) team is housed. He had completed his PhD in cognition and neuroscience at The University of Texas at Dallas, where his studies were focused on the intersection of four areas of interest: statistical methods, genomics, behaviour, and various neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Derek’s background made him a perfect candidate to help solve the big challenges that the ONDRI study was facing. Specifically how to plan and prepare a huge database – housing extensive data collected across five diseases and across eight platforms, incorporating technologies that varied by platform, by disease and often by site – for multidimensional analysis; and further, to be shared with the scientific world.

ONDRI Foundational Study cube

The ONDRI study at the time, and to a great extent even today, represented a very unique opportunity for a young scientist early in his career, wanting to grow and learn and make a difference in his chosen field.

The combination of the scale of the protocol, across domains and disorders, with the unique harmonization challenges, was hard to match, even in the larger academic environment in the United States.

Experience through ONDRI

Derek’s role at ONDRI combined two aspects. The first focused on data preparation, planning and training. The second was the biostatistics part, entailing ongoing analyses of the data.

The infrastructure of the data is the backbone of a large complex project like ONDRI – careful planning or lack thereof can make or break the potential impact of such research.

Planning this aspect effectively necessitates a deep understanding of all facets of the study protocol, the people and their respective roles in both the research and patient care.

“If you asked me what I learned from my experiences with ONDRI, my answer would vary by the year. There were certainly technical learnings: how to harmonize diverse data, or how to plan data standards friendly enough for both humans and machines. These are concepts that are not well taught academically but come from real-life applications like ONDRI”, said Derek.

He continues: “Over the five years at ONDRI, I can say that what I came away with at a higher level is a deep understanding of how to put diverse teams together to solve problems – both big and small – in an effective and holistic manner. I’m privileged to have been part of ONDRI, where I had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with everyone at every level: across career stages, across disciplines, from clinicians to technicians to administrators… my experience and achievements at ONDRI helped me to connect the dots, and directly led me to this next step in my career.”

Derek’s experience represents the essence of ONDRI and the Ontario Brain Institute’s vision of team science and a focus on developing highly qualified personnel. The ONDRI Scholars program has led to many different career trajectories, and diverse impacts. More to come in this series.

OBI through its Brain-CODE neuroinformatics platform has released the baseline data from ONDRI’s deeply phenotyped, cross-disease Foundational Study. More here.

Find open source tools released by ONDRI’s NIBS team here.

For more on career impacts through ONDRI.