As of March 2nd 2021

Notion:

Recently started getting in to using Notion as my primary note taking app. I’ve made a nice aesthetic dashboard to keep track of my PhD related things and have other areas for different aspects of tracking my life. Below are some of the things I track:

The Pandemic:

My family, close friends, and I are all luckily safe and healthy through this time of storms, fire, and virus. I hope you are doing well through this also.

Racism and Inequity:

In light of recent events, I’ve felt a personal responsibility to reflect on and address my own part in perpetuating racism and transphobia.

Actions taken so far:

  1. Worked with students and faculty to organize a series of talks regarding inequity in healthcare and research for the program I am part of. The series went really well, had solid attendance, fascinating discussions, and we have a list of action items to address regarding recruitment, mentorship, internet presence, and addressing student needs. There is a lot to do and momentum is starting to slow, but there has been some progress. If you are interested in some fun slides on bias in healthcare algorithms I put together a presentation available here. The last couple months I’ve been applying the principals learned from these discussions to my own research.
  2. I’ve been part of a book club focused on racial justice and have learned so much. Did you know the emancipation proclamation explicitly left out 750,000 slaves from emancipation? Well Angela Davis did, and her book “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” has been enlightening so far. Other books we’ve read are “I’m Still Here” by Austin Channing Brown and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.
  3. One area in which we have been making headway is the creation of a student needs survey to monitor the potential unmet needs within our program and make room for any needed changes.

Graduate School:

Medical Informatics Ph.D. Program at UCLA

I’m a 2nd year Medical Informatics PhD Student at UCLA in Dr. Alex Bui’s lab. I recently passed my Written Qualifying Exam and have begun doing actual research. My research focus is on the use of social determinants of health (SDoH) in to routine healthcare through digital health approaches with the goal of reducing health disparities in vulnerable and underserved populations.

I recently worked on a project called covidcompare.io with two other students and went live with the website In November. I’ll be conducting a usability study and hopefully publishing results in the coming months. I am now be working on the the analysis of pilot data from a collaboration between UCLA and Apple to study mental health and depression through mobile health. We are looking to use data from the pilot study of ~150 participants to influence design and analysis plan of future larger studies starting that will begin in March and the Fall of this year.

A peer in the MI program (Joseph Friedman) at UCLA and I recently got a manuscript approved for publication in the American Journal of Public Health, so looking forward to when that is published. We are also collaborating on a follow up of that work related to getting accurate estimates of current overdose mortality in the U.S. using publicly available data sources.

Future Plans:

Entrepreneurship

My goal in beginning a Ph.D program was to understand computational approaches in medicine in order to start a company in the field. Recently my goals and ambitions have shifted to where I can meaningfully help vulnerable populations. A company may be part of the solution but I’m not wed to the idea. I will be actively looking for the resources and mentors at UCLA and elsewhere to help ensure I am on the right track. I recently applied to and was offered a position in UCLA’s Biodesign fellowship! The program aligns very well with my own goals and I’m super excited to start this August.

Please feel free to reach out if you have any information or advice. My personal email is samir.akre@gmail.com.

Other Things In My Life

Meditation

I’ve been meditating for a couple years now, and for most of it followed a mantra based meditation practice from AYP which typically involves 2 ~30 minute sessions per day. For the last 6 months I decided to shift to the methods taught in the book The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa. The methods taught in the book feel more well suited to a western audience, it is reminiscent of weight training without entirely discarding eastern knowledge and influence.

Guitar

I’ve played the guitar since I was in middle school, but never felt good. I’m still not good, I don’t know how to “jam” with other players, don’t know music theory. But at least I can solo in a minor pentatonic pretty well. I’ve started to learn more theory and fundamentals and am really enjoying it. Videos from Ben Eller have been very useful.

Fitness

My roommate from the Freshman year dorms, Will Han, has been coaching me for the last 6 months to help me get swole. He’s helped me a ton with understanding the right way to eat, how to look at my fitness goals, and how to workout. Lack of a full gym and rack limits my ability to get absolutely huge, but I’ve made real progress for the first time in my life.

I spent the first 6 months gaining weight, which was a mental hurdle for me as I’ve spent the last decade trying to only lose weight and avoid succumbing to my family history of diabetes. I gained 15lbs and feel really good about it, now I am beginning to cut weight. This is definitely the most physically fit I’ve ever felt.