Apr 21, 2022

Humans of LMP: Rahul G. Krishnan

Humans of LMP, Equity and wellness
Humans of LMP: Rahul G. Krishnan

Each month we speak to a member of the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology community and find out more about them as part of an initiative from our Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee (WIDE).

This month we feature Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Medicine (Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology), Dr. Rahul Krishnan who is a member of The Temerty Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research and Education in Medicine (T-CAIREM).

Visit the Humans of LMP page to read more stories and nominate yourself or others to be featured.

How long have you been at LMP and what does your role involve?

I’ve been a member of LMP for nearly 8 months now! I’m an Assistant Professor cross-appointed between Computer Science and LMP, spending half my time teaching and half conducting research.

My first class was an introduction to machine learning, which is a third-year undergraduate computer science class and now I am starting a graduate course in machine learning for healthcare, which is at this intersectional field where I do research in machine learning for healthcare. I specifically look at how we can use patient data to predict what might happen to them in the future, such as how their cancer might grow and spread.

What led you to pursue your current career path?

I completed my undergraduate degree at U of T in electrical and computer engineering and after doing a year internship in industry, I realised that I didn’t find it intellectually stimulating enough but wasn’t sure what to do.

A professor who was working with the company invited me to get involved in his research which introduced me to this whole world of academic research and machine learning. I spent the summer working on a project with a graduate student on the intersection of machine learning and computational biology and I loved it, so I then went on to graduate school myself.

I started graduate school right at the time the deep learning revolution began which was a really exciting time to get into machine learning. Applying it to healthcare was an interesting opportunity because it gave me the ability to not just work with technical questions, but also to talk to people because there is such a human aspect to the generation of healthcare data.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of a really fun research project I did that allowed me to borrow from different fields of analysis and was inspired by a very practical problem of how we can develop good models to forecast what might happen to a patient in the future.  

It came about as a consequence of really thinking deeply about some of the problems that existed in this intersectional field of machine learning for healthcare and it formed the whole basis for my PhD. I blended ideas from probability state modeling and Bayesian inference – tools that have existed for many decades – with modern computational frameworks and deep learning. 

What was the best career advice you ever received?

To have a strong focus on what you’d like to see existing in the next 5, 10, 20 years and plan for that to happen. It’s all very good to do interesting work but to maintain progress and direction, you need to be very focused.

What has been an important learning experience in your life?

I went to graduate school at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and there was a talk given every year to students by Prof. Patrick Winston, a big figure in classical Artificial Intelligence.

He always started his talk saying that every student will be judged based on their ability to speak, their ability to write and on the quality of their ideas – in that order.

This made me realise that I had to invest in my communications skills – something we can't do too much of for our students right now. Regardless of what you do in the future, your ability to convince people of your point of view will have an enormous influence on your ability to do interesting work.

So go join a debating team or do some communications skills development!

Who is an influential person in your life and why? 

My grandfather was one of the first influential figures I had in my life. I grew up in Mumbai, India and my grandparents lived in Kerala in the South where we’d spend our summers.

My grandfather was a retired schoolteacher, but he never stopped working. In the evenings he would work as a social worker, he helped build a library and funded lots of projects in the local community. He had an incredibly strong work ethic that I admire.

What would it surprise people to know about you? 

I am a stamp collector. When I was young my uncle ran an export company and would send a lot of mail so would give me the stamps which got me interested in it.

I find it a fascinating way to get a glimpse into a country’s history, what it values and what it wants to highlight to its citizens. It’s a way to see the world without leaving your house.

What activities do you enjoy doing outside of work? 

I enjoy cycling but I moved to Toronto in the late Fall so I haven’t had much of a chance over the winter to explore on my bike yet. I also love swimming and live close to the athletics centre which is great for a quick swim before work. These activities help me think and keep me sane, but I also love cooking and am enjoying expanding my cooking tools! I particularly like exploring all the different cuisines from across India which has a huge variety.

What is your favourite album, film and novel? 

  • Album: I’m a big Freddie Mercury fan so I love listening to anything by Queen. 
  • Film: If I’m sick, my comfort movie is any of the Lord of the Rings films, but I also love 12 Angry Men.
  • Novel: I love reading The Dark Forest Trilogy which are science fiction novels by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin.

Who would be your dream dinner guests? 

Elvis and Dumbledore.

B. R. Ambedkar who wrote the Indian constitution in the 1940s – I’d love to meet someone who has written a document that structures the shape of how a country that is as big, diverse, and as democratic as India and set the framework for how a nation evolved.

Zheng Yi Sao who was a female pirate leader in the South China Seas in the early 1800s and commanded a large fleet which must have been an amazing achievement for a woman at that time. 

Where/what is your favourite place? 

My favorite place is walking around my grandmother's garden. Her garden surrounds the entire house and she’s made such an effort to make it pretty with lots of flowers. I don’t count time when I’m there so it's a good place to get lost in your thoughts.

If you were stuck on a deserted island but had all your basic needs taken care of (i.e. food and water), what two items would you bring with you and why?

I’d bring a nice tent and solar-powered devices so I could keep writing and expressing my thoughts.