Srinivasasainagendra named UAB Employee of the Year

Vinodh Srinivasasainagendra isn't your average statistician. Number-crunching is a key part of his job as a statistician and bio-informatician within the Section of Statistical Genetics (SSG) in the Department of Biostatistics. But he's also involved in life-science laboratories because of the nature of the department's research in genetics and genomics.

Vinodh Srinivasasainagendra came to UAB as a student a little more than 10 years ago. Now, the statistician and bio-informatician in the Section of Statistical Genetics is the 2009-10 UAB Employee of the Year. He was selected from this past year's employee of the month recipients.
"This is very much a unique position," he says. "I don't just crunch numbers on a daily basis. I get to talk with members of other sections and collaborate with other departments within UAB, and we're working to solve health-related problems."

Srinivasasainagendra's extraordinary programming skills, creativity and his ability to conceive, coordinate and resolve high-level computational problems within a team environment all distinguished him as a worthy selection for Employee of the Month in November 2009. Now, Vinodh has been selected the 2009-10 UAB Employee of the Year. The UAB Employee of the Month/Year Committee chose him from the 12 Employee of the Month award winners during the fiscal year.

UAB President Carol Garrison will host an invitation-only presentation ceremony and reception honoring Vinodh with the highest non-academic employee award Friday, Nov. 12.

"I've been surprised two years in a row now," Srinivasasainagendra says. "When I was told the news, I didn't really know how to react. It's certainly a big honor."

Srinivasasainagendra came to UAB in 2000 and distinguished himself as a student, earning masters degrees in electrical engineering in 2003 and in computer and information sciences in 2004.

He has developed a formidable array of technical skills ranging from an expertise in distributed and parallel computer technology to facility with a broad and still-expanding collection of programming and statistical languages, database design and management tools and software packages.

Srinivasasainagendra also choreographs computing development and data-analysis by acting as a channel between scientific investigators and the computing working group - one of the more challenging part of his job.

"Being able to dismantle high-level scientific specification into functional units and being able to delegate and coordinate with other members of the working group has added weekly challenges to my efforts handled in the section," Srinivasasainagendra says. "SSG is like an symbiotic ecosystem where people with expertise in different fields teach each other their known discipline of science. SSG's computing team conducts and coordinates training and outreach sessions on high-performance computing and next-generation technologies to other members of the section and the scientific working group comprising of investigators and post-doctoral fellows teach us science in return. With access to top-notch high performance computing (HPC) resources, I get to offer computing solutions for bioinformatics and related life science problems."

Srinivasasainagendra says his work is challenging and exciting. What he likes the most, he says, is the opportunity to collaborate with talented researchers and personnel who represent different science disciplines.

"The folks I work with, these are people who make headlines for the kind of research they do," Srinivasasainagendra says. "They are very well known in the global arena. I'm really honored to be part of this working group we have - not just in the Section of Statistical Genetics, but throughout UAB."

UAB is celebrated worldwide for its cutting-edge research in the biomedical sciences, and Jelai Wang, system programmer lead, says it is sometimes surprising to people unfamiliar with current biological research to find computer programmers and statisticians like Srinivasasainagendra working in life-science labs.

"In genetics and genomics in particular, the focal point of a great deal of research is on the genetic code that underlies disorders including cancer, diabetes and obesity," Wang says. "Understanding code is exactly what well-programmed, high-performance software and computers can do. If the observed data from biological and genetic studies are going to reveal meaningful results, those data have to be analyzed using sometimes novel and often highly creative computational techniques.

"It is precisely in this interface between the life sciences and computer technology that Srinivasasainagendra's contributions to UAB are so valuable," Wang says.

Grant proposals
Srinivasasainagendra also has made contributions to his department in the area of grant proposals.

"Specifically, he often is counted on to perform complex, multi-step data-mining queries across multiple, online databases, including PubMed, CRISP, ISI and others," says Hemant K. Tiwari, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics. "Sometimes he does this on very short notice and still produces high-quality tables and beautiful graphical works of art. These creative works have, without a doubt, contributed to the SSG's and thus UAB's continued success in finding and securing research funding for many important scientific projects."

Srinivasasainagendra says he appreciates that he works in an environment that can provide an abundance of resources that enable him to do his job effectively and efficiently.

"Having represented different domains of science, from engineering to computer science to bio-computing, it is very important for me to be part of a scientifically diverse and inter-disciplinary work environment," Srinivasasainagendra says. "SSG is an open university by itself — a melting pot and a knowledge reservoir for different domains of science. Interacting with a broad zone of domain experts who are working together to solve some health related problem is fantastic. I am grateful to our section head David B. Allison, and computing team supervisor Jelai Wang, for inviting me to join the section more than six years ago. The feels-like-home environment at SSG is so rewarding, and the day-to-day challenges get converted into successful research stories at the end."

David Allison, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics says Srinivasasainagendra's efforts are crucial to the SSG enterprise.

"Without a person like Vinodh, who has both a wide range of computational skills and an ability to work well in teams of investigative scientists, much of the research upon which UAB's reputation is founded simply would never reach fruition," adds Allison. "We are all fortunate that Vinodh is keeping his UAB training and expertise here in Birmingham. He is one of the behind-the-scenes employees who makes UAB's progress and reputation possible."

Srinivasasainagendra says campus researchers continue to push boundaries in their work - and he knows this because it has forced him to develop new ways to help them with their investigations.

Srinivasasainagendra's tool kit has evolved to the point where he has to think more next generation in terms of computing techniques and sequencing.

"Next generation sequencing is something I'm really excited about," he says. "I have a pipeline of projects that involves data collected through these next generation sequencing techniques, and biomedical informatics seems to be a very important and a critical player in this next generation projects."

Srinivasasainagendra says he appreciates his co-workers who nominated him for the Employee of the Month award and the honor of being 2010's UAB Employee of the Year.
"I love what I get to do here," he says. "We do research in so many areas and a lot of problem solving. I feel we're doing work that is a good service to humanity, and that's what I like the most about the section."