Cancer Data Science Pulse

Spotlight on CBIIT Staff: Jennifer Kwok

Jennifer Kwok

In this blog series, NCI’s Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology (CBIIT) shines a spotlight on the staff who are working to turn data and IT resources into solutions for addressing data-driven cancer research.

Our newest “Spotlight” features Jennifer Kwok, program manager in the Infrastructure and Information Technology Operations Branch at CBIIT. Much of her work centers on developing IT solutions for NCI staff and organizations to streamline and optimize their core business functions and processes.

How long have you worked at NCI?

I’ve been at NCI for almost 15 years. During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work in several different NCI offices across the Institute. It seems that every few years, another great NCI opportunity would present itself. That’s one of the wonderful things about NCI— there are so many different ways to contribute to the mission! 

What brought you to CBIIT?

I joined CBIIT 5 years ago, which is the longest I’ve ever stayed in an NCI office. It’s been such a great fit for me, as my undergraduate degree is in Management Information Systems. Looking back, it seems like every appointment I’ve had at NCI has helped prepare me for this current position. For example, right before joining CBIIT, I was in the NCI Office of Advocacy Relations (OAR). One major project I was asked to oversee was the redesign of NCI’s Research Advocate System. The goal was to more accurately match NCI research advocates and/or advocacy organizations to various NCI activities. In overseeing that project, I worked closely with a CBIIT development team. The team used our requirements to help develop and maintain the system for us. Ironically, I now manage that CBIIT development team, and the Research Advocate System is one of the applications within our portfolio. It’s like a full-circle moment!

What do you enjoy most about your work?

My passion is working with NCI colleagues to add value to and enhance their business operations. People don’t often fully appreciate the importance of the administrative/business side in supporting researchers. Or they may fail to see how automation can make their processes more efficient and effective.

I also enjoy working with people in different areas of expertise and at varying levels of experience. My work at NCI taught me how much I like collaborating with a team, finding solutions together, and bringing those solutions to life.

At CBIIT, I manage a development team of more than 25 awesome people. These individuals bring their unique skills—whether it’s understanding the problem(s) and determining the best ways to solve it, or designing, developing, and testing a system. Together these things bring a web-based application/solution to fruition. That old adage, “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work,” is something I practice every day. Guiding the team in how to approach and prioritize the work is always rewarding. But most important to me is fostering a workplace culture where we know we provided something of value. We want people to walk away from working with us and feel good about it. We want them to easily use the solution we develop and see the benefit it brings to their work.

Is there an area where you feel you’ve really made a difference? Was there a project that made you the most proud?

We’ve had a lot of success stories, so it’s hard to single out one. A recent application we developed that I’m particularly proud of is the electronic Individual Development Plan (eIDP).  The eIDP supports NCI-funded trainees so they can more easily create, track, and, along with their mentors, complete an individual development plan (IDP). An IDP helps you to define your professional goals and identify skills that need further development. They’re especially useful for establishing a career track and for discussing with advisors or managers during staff evaluations. This project involved working with the training directors across NCI and helping them come to a consensus regarding a unified and automated approach. Previously, each training director had to keep track of paper-based IDPs that collected slightly different information, making it difficult to obtain consistent data or metrics for reporting. In the end, we delivered a business solution that worked for all and was very well received. In fact, it was presented at a trans-NIH training directors meeting last year. After that unveiling, staff from at least nine different NIH Institute/Centers either requested the source code or asked about leveraging the NCI application for their organizations. It was very satisfying to develop a solution that could serve needs beyond NCI without reinventing the wheel. It reinforced that our development team hit the mark with this solution.

We’ve learned a lot about your work at CBIIT. What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Especially now, with so much of our workforce offsite, there have been a lot more scheduled meetings but less social connections with my team members. I miss that aspect. I used to joke that I often spent more time with my CBIIT colleagues (my work family) than my actual home family.

When I’m not working, my husband and I love spending time with our two young boys (ages 7 and 2) and our dog. Especially with everything that’s happening in the world today, they are a reminder of what’s really important. Fall is our favorite season, so we’re taking advantage of being outside, exploring new walking trails, biking, camping, playing football, and just enjoying the cooler temperatures.

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