Connections  Career Paths in Biomedical Informatics
Casey Overby Taylor, PhD, Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University
Trained as a predoctoral fellow at University of Washington

Casey studied bioinformatics in getting her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees as well as in a post doc. She is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins where she is conducting research and teaching biomedical informatics.

Discovering Bioinformatics Casey Overby Taylor was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but moved a great deal as a child, going to five different elementary schools. She had many interests, ranging from the arts to entomology to engineering, computer science, and medicine. Since both of her parents had PhDs and were in academia, she had familiarity with education and research—and considered this a possible career path.

At the University of Michigan, she initially took classes in the arts and sciences as well as biology and computer science. Based on her interests, her father—who was in administration at Michigan State—suggested she explore the emerging field of bioinformatics, as he thought it would be a good fit for her. When Casey discovered that bioinformatics included the Human Genome Project, her interest was sparked in learning more.

The University of Michigan, which had just launched a graduate program in bioinformatics, didn’t yet have undergraduate offerings in bioinformatics, but allowed Casey to create her own bioinformatics major, which involved working with some graduate faculty. Once immersed in bioinformatics, Casey saw that the field was far broader than just the human genome. She was exposed to NCBI resources, PubMed, and other types of relevant data, information, and resources.

In preparing to graduate from college, Casey was unsure of her next step. She was thinking medical school or a PhD program, but didn’t feel ready to commit to either. So, she decided on a master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in bioinformatics. While at Penn she worked as a research assistant, which provided exposure to clinical research, software development, and creating tools for researchers. During the course of this work, a faculty member suggested to Casey that she apply to PhD programs in bioinformatics.

Casey followed this advice and applied to a range of PhD programs. She ended up choosing the University of Washington, which included both bioinformatics and clinical informatics.

Before beginning her PhD, Casey participated in a program called BBSI (Bioengineering and Bioinformatics Summer Institute) at the University of Pittsburgh. As part of this program, she worked in a lab and used modeling. This experience confirmed to Casey that a PhD was the way to go and made her even more excited about her direction.

PhD and Beyond

At the University of Washington, which was an NLM training program, Casey received a PhD in Biomedical and Health Informatics as well as a graduate certificate in public health genetics. She saw her exposure to clinical informatics as eye opening, learning about electronic health records, tools for clinical research, and how clinicians use technology when treating patients. Other learning included exposure to genetics in public health, which caused Casey to think more about the ethical, legal, and social issues related to genetics.

An important experience during her PhD program was spending a summer at NLM where she did work to understand how well genetics are captured in abstracts and learned about all of NLM’s tools.

As she completed her PhD, Casey decided to spend a year doing a post doc at Columbia, looking at questions around how genetics is included in decision support. She concluded that she wanted to remain in academia and continue doing research. She loves the research process of coming up with questions, investigating, and overcoming barriers. She also enjoys teaching and training students.

Casey is currently an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. Her research spans a number of areas at the intersection of biomedical informatics and public health, and continues to look at decision support. Most rewarding to Casey is applying findings from her research in ways that help patients in the real world.

“I don’t necessarily help people directly . . . but, I think that through decision support, I can directly impact patient care by making sure the right information is received by the right person at the right time to be able to provide care.”

Trainee information current as of 2019.