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Jessica Van Schaick: Scientific Information Analyst (SIA) in a Category All Her Own

Since 2013, Jessica Van Schaick has worked for DSFederal as a highly accomplished Scientific Information Analyst (SIA). She works within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of the Division of Scientific Categorization and Analysis (DSCA). She and her team engage in the process of Research Conditioning and Disease Categorization (RCDC) to refine hundreds of biomedical categories for public use. 

Van Schaick grew up in Tipp City, OH and completed her undergraduate work in zoology at Ohio Wesleyan University. Soon after, she made a beeline to D.C. as a PhD candidate to study genetics and cancer, specifically doing research on malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors in mice, through a joint program between The George Washington University and the NIH.

Soon after completing the program, she was employed in the NIH RCDC program, then worked her way up to her current SIA position. Her role is cyclical - after being assigned a specific research category, she must curate scientific concepts and integrate health-related information from dozens of sources to adjust each category to better capture the scientifically relevant (SR) projects and remove not scientifically relevant (NSR) projects. 

The research categories that she refines can span anywhere from specific diseases, such as breast cancer, sepsis, uterine cancer, Tourette’s Syndrome and smallpox, to broader biomedical research areas such as disease prevention, sarcopenia, underage drinking, and tobacco smoke effects and stem cell research. After presenting her findings to an expert panel and receiving feedback, she further refined and adjusted her given research categories to ensure they are accurate and informative. Additionally, the scientific thesaurus she co-curates, using a text mining engine, is a repository for the thousands of concepts the SIAs use in the categories. 

Van Schaick’s expertise in the SIA role also helps her serve as a subject matter expert (SME) to DSFederal - the insight she is able to provide to the DSFederal team is vital during the proposal brainstorming and writing process. She said that she wants to continue exploring different projects and ways to make the thesaurus more efficient and more functional.

“I get to dabble in all kinds of different research areas, which keeps things interesting,Van Schaick said. She appreciates that her work allows her to have a landscape view of scientific research. “Many pieces have to fit together for what we do, but the bottom line is to produce an accurate budget report on NIH spending on different research, condition and disease areas.” 

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