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Dr. Pavithra Rajendran and Shiren Patel from Great Ormond Street Hospital on Bridging Data Science and Healthcare

Mon 4 Mar 2024

Ahead of Big Data & AI World at ExCeL London on 6-7 March, Techerati spoke with two remarkable individuals from Great Ormond Street Hospital: Shiren Patel, Interim Head of Digital Research Environment and Innovation Technology Consultant, and Dr. Pavithra Rajendran, NLP Technical Lead and Senior Data Scientist.

Their unique paths through the realms of technology consultancy and academic research highlight the dynamic interplay between personal growth and professional development in the fields of data science and healthcare innovation.

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From Technology Consultancy to Healthcare Innovation

Shiren Patel’s professional journey, marked by its inception at a leading technology consultancy, underscores a narrative of growth, adaptation, and impact that transcends the conventional boundaries of industry sectors.

His initial foray into the corporate world directly after university served as a place for developing a deep understanding of business mechanics, client relations, and the diverse challenges across various industries.

This formative period helped Shiren establish a new worldview where the application of technology could drive significant business outcomes.

Working within a consultancy’s vast ecosystem, Shiren was quickly immersed in projects that spanned finance and insurance — sectors known for their rigorous demands and fast-paced environments. Shiren had to deliver with precision to ensure the smooth operation of the company. It was here that Shiren honed his ability to adapt rapidly, delivering meticulously developed code that would have downstream impacts on complex projects.

The challenges came in the form of technical execution along with navigating the nuanced dynamics of client-supplier relationships across different sectors. This experience laid the groundwork for Shiren’s mantra: to understand the new environment thoroughly and leave it better than he found it.

A particularly proud moment for Shiren during this period was his contribution to pioneering electronic statements in finance, transitioning from paper-based to online reporting. This innovation transformed how financial transactions were communicated to customers, reflecting a broader shift towards digital solutions that would characterise his future endeavors.

Shiren’s career trajectory took a notable turn when he transitioned the large technology consultancy firm to a smaller software house. This move represented a shift from being a ‘small cog in a large wheel’ to becoming a ‘large cog in a small wheel’. The change required him to adapt quickly, taking on a more hands-on approach in a setting where every individual’s contribution was crucial to the project’s success.

Transition to Healthcare Innovation

Shiren’s leap to healthcare, specifically to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), represented a pivotal shift in Shiren’s career. Here, the challenges were distinct yet familiar. The public sector presented a new set of parameters within which to innovate.

At GOSH, Shiren’s role within the Digital Research team allowed him to engage with cutting-edge technologies and innovative projects aimed at transforming pediatric healthcare.

Shiren highlighted the unique position of GOSH as a place where technological and healthcare innovation combine. The hospital’s reputation and mission to lead in pediatric care have enabled collaborations that push the boundaries of what’s possible in healthcare technology, from data analytics to digital health solutions.

Shiren’s journey encapsulates a broader mission of leveraging technology to make tangible impacts in people’s lives. At GOSH, the opportunity to share innovations within the NHS and beyond represents a paradigm shift from the competitive confines of the private sector to a more collaborative, open-source ethos prevalent in public healthcare.

As Shiren and his team at GOSH continue to explore and implement new technologies, their work exemplifies the transformative potential of bridging diverse professional experiences to innovate for societal good.

Embracing the PhD Challenge

Dr. Pavithra Rajendran’s foray into the world of natural language processing during her PhD marked a significant chapter in her career, emblematic of the rigorous journey from academia to industry within the realm of computer science.

Her transition illuminated the expansive scope of computer science beyond mere programming, revealing the intricate layers of research, data analysis, and the application of theoretical concepts to solve real-world problems.

Embarking on her PhD in 2015, Dr. Pavithra delved into the nuanced field of argument mining, a domain where computational argumentation meets empirical NLP techniques. This endeavor involved an extensive exploration of existing research, identifying gaps, and innovating within those spaces.

Dr. Pavithra looked to bridge theoretical frameworks with practical NLP methodologies to analyse and derive value from real-world data.

After finishing her PhD, Dr. Pavithra’s experienced pivotal shift in perspective — from the pristine, controlled environments of academic research to the dynamic, often chaotic realms of industry data.

In academia, Dr. Pavithra found that data sets were clean, well-defined, and structured to facilitate specific research outcomes. However, outside of academic Dr. Pavithra experienced a starkly different scenario. Here, data was vast, unstructured, and riddled with imperfections.

“Moving into industry, you need broaden your skills … you need to understand how do you bring the academic research into practicality,” Dr. Pavithra said.

This transition necessitated a recalibration of expectations and methodologies. In the world of academia, Dr. Pavithra noted that there was a pursuit of perfection, with a luxury of time to refine and delve deep into a singular topic. Conversely, industry operates under the constraints of timelines and immediate applicability.

“You’re not going to get all your time for the project. It’s always gonna be short. You need to do the best what you can, and what would help the clients rather than what I can do from my technical side,” she explained, capturing the essence of adapting academic excellence to meet the pragmatic needs of industry projects.

NLP’s Evolving Landscape

Reflecting on the progression of NLP since her PhD days, Dr. Pavithra acknowledged the monumental strides in the field, notably the advent of large language models (LLMs) like GPT-4.

While these developments have captured the imagination of the public and business alike, Dr. Pavithra maintains a pragmatic outlook on their application within healthcare and beyond to bring structure to unstructured data. Dr. Pavithra also underscored the potential for NLP to transform healthcare data into actionable insights, even beyond the allure of the latest LLMs.

Adapting to New Environments

In their conversation with Techerati, both Dr. Pavithra and Shiren shared their insights into the crucial role of adaptability in their careers, especially as they transitioned between vastly different work environments.

Their experiences underscore the importance of flexibility, a deep understanding of one’s work context, and the ability to embrace change as a constant companion in the journey of professional growth.

As they prepare to share their insights at Big Data & AI World, their stories stand as a testament to the transformative power of adaptability in shaping successful and impactful careers.

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