Wendy Chapman examines her time at the University of Pittsburgh

“Keeping an open mind” has always been Dr. Wendy Chapman’s motto as she climbed from a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics to a PhD in Medical Informatics. Dr. Chapman currently leads the University of Utah’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, the oldest informatics department in the U.S., and she started her career at Pitt. She came to the University of Pittsburgh in 2000 as an NLM postdoctoral fellow doing natural language processing (NLP) and stayed as an assistant professor until 2010.

Her skills and time spent at the University of Pittsburgh were monumental to her finding her groove in the biomedical informatics world and in natural language processing. She found mentors, colleagues, and sponsors at Pitt with Bruce Buchanan, Greg Cooper, Mike Wagner, Rebecca Jacobson, and Mike Becich. She worked with the RODS Lab on biosurveillance and learned how to develop and evaluate NLP techniques in the context of an exciting application area, creating a synergetic relationship between application and science. In addition, she stated, “I had ideas that I wanted to do that went beyond my funded research, and Dr. Becich was very supportive of those ideas.” She participated in department leadership and created NLP resources used across the world while she was here. These opportunities let her reach beyond her local research lab to have broader international impact.

Dr. Chapman maintains that her biggest contribution to the informatics field is in “knowledge representation that’s needed for NLP – not in the NLP algorithms themselves.” This all began with what became her best-known work: a negation algorithm that she helped develop with Will Bridewell during her time at the University of Pittsburgh.

Collaborations have always been at the forefront of Dr. Chapman’s mind. Her collaborative efforts at Pittsburgh spilled over into helping her become a chair of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) Natural Language Processing Working Group and chair of the AMIA Student Paper Awards Committee. She now hopes to use some of her Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Endowed Chair award funding to help start a Leadership Academy for Women in Informatics and to create high school courses to introduce students to informatics.

Ultimately, Dr. Chapman explains that the best moments at the University of Pittsburgh came from the people. “I just loved the faculty, and I had great students who are still friends!” Through her knack for always seeking out new opportunities and her ability to collaborate with a wide variety of people, Dr. Chapman created a legacy at the University of Pittsburgh that has continued to follow her throughout her career.

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