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Stanford Biomedical Computation Program Celebrates 20 Years of Interdisciplinary Excellence

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When Amit Kaushal was an undergraduate student at Stanford 20 years ago, he recalls a notable absence: there was no program geared towards harnessing the potential of computational sciences to propel advancements in biology and medicine. "I submitted a proposal to the School of Engineering to design my own major," he reminisces. "Professors Russ Altman and Daphne Koller had been considering a similar idea; the three of us got together, and the major was born." Today, Amit Kaushal, MD, PhD, serves as a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine (Stanford-VA) and Adjunct Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University.

Amit shares his reflections on the Stanford Biomedical Computation Program, celebrating its 20th year anniversary.

Can you share some memorable success stories or accomplishments of alumni who have graduated from the Stanford Biomedical Computation Program (BMC) over the past twenty years?

BMC draws amazing students from a variety of backgrounds and they go on to do diverse and interesting things. The major is consistently gender balanced. About half of the alumni have gone on to pursue advanced degrees such as MD, PhD, or MD/PhD. The other half has gone into industries spanning pharmaceuticals, technology, digital health, and more. We are proud of the success of our students, and we are proud that a single program can provide a foundation that is both broad and deep enough to empower students to follow such a diversity of paths after graduation. 

How has the vision of BMC evolved over time?

A lot of themes we thought were important back then are still important today - that it's important for students to learn not just skills but language and cultures of both the biomedical and computational sciences and to think and work in the interdisciplinary spaces between them. 

What are some ongoing research endeavors, and how are students involved?

BMC is one of the only undergraduate majors that requires all its students to have a formal two-quarter research experience. It's one of the best parts of the major, and because of their unique background and skill set, students are able to tackle real-world challenges and make meaningful contributions.

What role has interdisciplinary collaboration played in shaping the identity and success of the BMC program over the past twenty years?

Biomedical computation is the only major at Stanford dedicated entirely to the interdisciplinary study of the biomedical and computational sciences. It lives in the Department of Bioengineering - the only department in the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine. Our students are truly academically multilingual and multicultural -- they can move freely and comfortably in the biomedical and computational worlds, and this ability allows them to unlock insights and make contributions in unique ways.

Our focus on interdisciplinary work applies beyond the major too. We encourage our students to explore the breadth of Stanford's offerings, whether that means pursuing a minor, getting involved in extracurricular activities, playing sports, studying abroad, or taking a class just for fun.

Looking ahead to the future, what are the aspirations and goals of the program as it embarks on its next chapter beyond the 20th-anniversary celebration?

The idea that disciplines like AI and machine learning can help advance the frontiers of biology and human health is no longer in the future – it is here today. Interest in the major is at an all-time high with record class sizes. Over the next 20 years, we want BMC graduates to be an example of people who have not just deep technical and biomedical knowledge but can use this as a force for good, whether it is advancing the frontiers of a scientific discipline or improving human health.

As of May 2024, the Stanford Biomedical Computation major has graduated over 108 students since its inception. There are currently 48 students enrolled in the program.