These Frequently Asked Questions are mainly intended for senior undergraduate and new graduate students.
Why work in the systems area?
Essentially, research in the systems area studies the behavior of dynamic systems. Since every system found in nature exhibits dynamic behavior in one form or another it is important to develop detailed models of a system in order to make predictions about its behavior under different scenarios. These models also allow us to gain insights into complex systems, such as physiological systems or cellular metabolic or signaling pathways. The application of systems theory to biological and biomedical systems is one major aspects of what is known as Systems Biology.
Students who work in the systems area will develop a good background in mathematics, a strong understanding for the system under investigation, and will develop computer skills needed to perform the investigation. In many cases the research will be carried out in collaboration with experimental collaborators or with industry, which offers the possibility for summer internships. Graduates in the systems area are highly sought by industry, often accepting jobs more than one year prior to completion of their degrees. Additionally, a good percentage of graduates in this research area find employment in Academia, national labs, or work for federal agencies.
Why is it important to study dynamic systems?
There are many emerging biomedical applications for which dynamic models are required. One example is the drug infusion problem. A patient's response to a drug infusion will never reach a steady state. Instead, it is important to guarantee that certain parameters will stay within desired bounds for the whole duration of the drug infusion, while one has to make sure that the patient will not be overdosed at any time. Also, any type of cellular behavior is dynamic as cells are never completely at steady state. These problems can be investigated with dynamic models, whereas steady state models would not adequately describe the behavior of these systems.
Due to the fact that the available computational power is constantly increasing and due to the availability of powerful simulation and optimization algorithms as well as Big Data approaches, it is now possible to simulate and analyze many dynamic systems that were intractable only a few years ago.
What is different about research in your group compared to research groups at other universities?
In our research group we take an approach that integrates theoretical development with simulations, and experimental investigation, including collaboration with clinical researchers and industry. The work that is performed in our group focuses on the modeling, control, and optimization related issues. However, we closely collaborate with other research groups that carry out the experimental/clinical aspects of these problems. We also have strong ties with industry and medical schools via several ongoing collaborations. This enables us to focus on our strengths, while it guarantees that the research results are based upon real data and are directly applicable in practice.