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Big Data-Scientist Training Enhancement Program (BD-STEP)


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Program Announcement

BD-STEP Program Announcement

Program Overview

The Big Data-Scientist Training Enhancement Program (BD-STEP) was launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), on September 28, 2015.

"Big data" is a term to describe data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing strategies are inadequate. As continued advancements in biomedical technologies generate an increasing amount of patient data, administration of patient-centered care will depend, in part, on the ability to harness relevant insights from this data. Using clinical and other health data to understand disease and wellness, as well as the best treatment and prevention options for individual patients, is critical for improving care. BD-STEP complements these efforts by aiming to train a new generation of "hybrid" clinical scientists that will utilize data science to develop innovative methods for improving health care.

Junior-level physical scientist trainees from accredited programs in relevant disciplines (including engineering, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, and physics) will be identified by the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Center for Strategic Initiatives (CSSI). BD-STEP will draw on the expertise of these highly skilled data scientists-in-training to facilitate the execution of large-scale system changes in clinical care to expeditiously improve patient outcomes. BD-STEP matches trainees with VA medical centers across the country to leverage VA data systems, supporting clinically-relevant, year-long training and research opportunities in collaboration with VA clinician scientists.

BD-STEP represents the first time in VA where the Veterans Health Administration's Employee Education System, Office of Academic Affiliations, and the Office of Research and Development have worked together with NCI’s Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives to build a program.


Approved sites will provide graduate-level training in clinical, health services, and/or bioinformatics research for trainees who have demonstrated experience in bioinformatics, modeling, and management of large data sets. Each site provides an overview of how they understand and apply big data in their clinical research setting, including the ethical and legal implications; how data are generated in the course of providing clinical care and how those data are aggregated at local, regional, and national levels; and how BD-STEP trainees will participate in a research project involving such data.

VA Sites Director(s) Phone
Boston Dr. Mary Brophy
Dr. Nhan Do
Buffalo Dr. Alan Lesse
Dr. Peter Elkin
Durham Dr. Michael Kelley 919-286-0411 ex 4110
Houston Dr. Aanand D. Naik
Dr. Jessica Davila
Dr. Kyler Godwin
Palo Alto Dr. Jennifer Lee
Dr. Todd Wagner
650-493-5000 ex 68200
650-493-5000 ex 22048
Seattle Dr. David Au
Dr. Steven Zeliadt

Fiscal year 2019 kick-off meeting – October 1, 2018

Advisory Council

The BD-Step Advisory Council serves as the governing body for BD-STEP. The Advisory Council convenes to review and approve VA site applications and to match trainees with approved sites. The Advisory Council develops recommendations for continuous program improvement, and provides strategic guidance to the goals of the program.

Members of the BD-STEP Advisory Council include:

  • Dr. Michelle Berny-Lang, Program Manager, Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives, Office of the Director, National Cancer Institute
  • Dr. Holly Birdsall, Scientific Advisor, Office of Research and Development, VHA
  • Dr. Karen Sanders, Deputy Chief Academic Affiliation Officer, Office of Academic Affiliations, VHA
  • Dr. Rachel Ramoni, Chief Research and Development Officer, Office of Research and Development, VHA
  • Dr. Jonathan Wiest, Director, Center for Cancer Training, National Cancer Institute

In the News

Convergent Sciences in Physical Oncology Journal

Big Data Changing Healthcare

Collaborating Against Cancer: Inter-Agency Pilots

Increasing use of data science in VA

VA 'Big Data' Efforts Highlighted in Medical Journal

Forging Military Partnerships to Empower the Cancer Research Enterprise

Contact Persons

For information or questions related to the application process, please contact Kimberly Uhl at or (562) 826-5996. For information or questions related to this training program, please contact Frank Meng at or (562) 522-2261, Colleen Shannon at or (857) 364-6132, or Kelly Gaynor at or (857) 364-2714.