HDR UK: Dr Susheel Varma - overcoming the data monster
Susheel’s ambition is for his work to be invisible. As Director of Engineering HDR UK his role is all about getting the right data to the right people when they need it, in the shape it’s needed. And preferably it will feel so easy they won’t stop to wonder how it all happens.
Making data access and analysis easy for other involves immense challenges and complexity behind the scenes – what Susheel terms “overcoming the data monster”. It’s something that his career path has perfectly equipped him to do this within a health data research context.
Having spent many of his school years in Dubai, he took an Information Technology degree at the University of Pondicherry in his native India with the idea of getting a job with a large bank. Then, while picking up leaflets about universities in Australia for his cousin he dropped into an office which was promoting overseas courses in Sheffield. Staff told him that interviews were about to take place – the upshot was that Susheel and his cousin received unconditional offers.
A Masters was followed by a PhD researching cardiovascular electrophysiology and then Post-Doctoral work on projects including one that aimed to predict the course of dementia in order to support decisions by healthcare teams.
However, Susheel was increasingly interested in building the software and infrastructures that allow health data research to take place. After working in a variety of roles, including with the European Bioinformatics Institute, he took on his current post with HDR UK in 2019.
On a day-to-day basis he now manages the engineering of the HDR UK Innovation Gateway – a remarkable and rapidly expanding initiative that gives researchers secure access to datasets, papers and a variety of other resources from across the country.
More broadly a lot of his work is around federated analytics – running large scale analytics jobs within different cluster research environments for discovery work. Ultimately it’s about building the services and support that are needed for high quality open science.
And beyond that it’s about developing ways for data scientists and researchers across the country to be able to connect and collaborate seamlessly.
The speed at which health data science brings improvements to health and wellbeing is accelerating – and that is thanks in large part to the people like Susheel who are constantly coming up with better, faster and more efficient ways for research to be carried out. A constant tension he faces in the work he does, is to build infrastructure faster, cheaper and reliably. Unfortunately, he has to choose only two of those options, not all three!
Susheel’s career path:
- BEng in Information Technology, University of Pondicherry, India
- MSc in Advanced Software Engineering, University of Sheffield
- PhD in Computational Systems Biology, University of Sheffield
- Post-doctoral research in medical physics and in-silico modelling
- Translational Technology Officer (CTO) of CISTIB
- Technical Coordinator – Human Data & Genomic Translation Services, European Bioinformatics Institute
- ELIXIR Competence Centre Project Manager (EOSC-Hub), European Bioinformatics Institute
- Director of Engineering, HDR UK