Community Spotlight: Enzo Ferrante, Researcher in Computational Methods for Biomedical Image Analysis

For this month’s community spotlight, meet Dr. Enzo Ferrante! Enzo’s an Argentina-based computer scientist in medical imaging and a strong advocate for open access. His two main inspirations were his Mum and video games, who never got on too well… Discover what open access means for developing economies in Latin America and scientific communities around the world!

Nia Cason: Hi Enzo, could you introduce yourself in a few words?

Enzo Ferrante: I’m a computer scientist working in Argentina, which is where I’m originally from. I did my undergrad studies at UNICEN University, in Tandil, Argentina, then I moved to France to do my PhD in computer sciences at the Center for Visual Computing. I then did a post doc at the Biomedia Group at Imperial College London. After that, I received this fellowship from the AXA Research Fund to come back to Argentina, where I joined the sinc(i) Research institute for signals, systems, and computational intelligence at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Santa Fe city, so I’m currently a post doc researcher, and by next year I’ll be becoming a permanent researcher here.

NC: What’s your speciality in computer sciences?

EF: My research topic is medical image computing, so how we can use computers to understand medical images. Essentially, I investigate how artificial intelligence can be applied to medical images, such as magnetic resonance and computer tomography images of the brain and body. My work involves building algorithms to help doctors understand these images – I’m mostly dedicated to research, but I’ve started to take on more students and teaching responsibilities on image processing classes.

NC: And will artificial intelligence replace doctors and/or take over the world?

EF: We try to find tools that’ll help medical doctors save time or flag things they might have overlooked, but no, we’re not trying to replace doctors! For example, the way medical doctors annotate images can be really time consuming – it can be done by a computer then the doctor can check it. It’s more like a kind of synergy between the doctor and the computer.

NC: What inspired you to choose this research topic?

EF: During my undergraduate degree, I realised that I wanted to apply my knowledge to help people. I discovered the field of medical image computing through some talks at my university. After deciding I wanted to do a PhD in the field, I found Nikos Paragios, who’s one of the most well-known professors in medical imaging. So then I moved to France.

I think one of the main reasons I went into research was my Mum actually – she was a maths professor working in didactics research at the university and I found the idea of research really exciting. At the same time, I was a huge fan of computer games and wanted to design my own – I was already really, really into computer sciences and systems even back then. My Mum hated the computer games when I was growing up, but it worked out okay in the end!

NC: What’s your personal contribution to open access?

EF: I’m really supportive of the idea of giving open access and scientific content to everybody. I archive everything – all my papers are on ArXiv, which is a site that lets you upload your research and share your work. In my lab, we also have our own repository where we upload all our lab’s research in an open access version. Publishing is fundamental in research because we need to diffuse our work and let other researchers see what we’re doing.

NC: What impact does open access have on Argentina specifically?

EF: In publishing, money shouldn’t be a constraint, especially for people coming from developing economies such as in my case. Gold open access, which you pay for, is really difficult now that Argentina is experiencing enormous budget cuts in science and technology. Sometimes open access Gold fees are like 2000 dollars, but maybe that money is better spent financing my students and my research. Okay, sometimes the big editorials do proofreading or formatting, but is it worth paying 2000 dollars for? I’m not sure.

In Argentina, we have a law from 2013 that encourages public research institutions to create their own repositories, so we now have a linked network of open access repositories. We also often resort to Green open access – so, archiving in a public repository – which basically allows you to share your papers for free.

We also have a service in the (ex) Ministry of Science and Technology (the current government eliminated the Ministry in September this year but, well, that’s another issue…) that centralises everything and allows us to access a lot of journals, but there’s still some you can’t access, and emailing authors and asking them for their papers doesn’t always work. I think Green open access in particular is a great way of helping science develop.

NC: How about open access specifically in the field of computer science?

EF: There’s a lot of movement in computer science where researchers are starting to boycott editorials and create alternative open access journals. I think this is a reaction of the scientific community to this problem, as are websites such as Sci-hub – it’s in the limit of what’s legal or not, but this is a reaction of the community to the data access problem, and sometimes a last resource for researchers, especially in developing countries. Another really interesting concept in computer sciences is open sourcing your code or even making it Free Software. Publishing the code benefits the entire community and contributes to reproducible research.

NC: Are there any consequences to bypassing big journals through self-archiving?

EF: ArXiv is great for example, but whatever is available there hasn’t been peer reviewed, which is one of the only ways we have to check the quality of published work. I don’t think bypassing the big publishers will hurt science, but open access and its organisation is a research topic in itself!  

NC: Do you think open access is embraced worldwide?

EF: I’ve seen some European initiatives that oblige researchers to make their papers open access, but they also give money for that. This isn’t likely to happen right now in Argentina, because we need to use this money to develop our own research instead of paying those fees. There’s different perspectives, but I think most researchers worldwide are pro open access.

NC: Can you recommend any scientific events?

EF: Pop science talks such as Ted talks are great as they help to promote and democratize scientific knowledge, which I think is another way to implement open access – it makes work accessible to the public. In medical image computing, the main conference is the International Conference on Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Interventions; it’s the main forum for discussing advances in computational tools.

NC: Do you have any advice for PhD students or post docs?

EF: I think you need to be resilient. You’re going to be excited about your paper or research, you’re going to send it to a conference or journal, then you’re going to get rejected, a lot. You have to be able to manage those frustrations. Also, always do research on something you’re really interested in – if you’re not fascinated by it, you’ll get bored after a couple of months.

NC: What scientific personalities do you follow online? 

EF: I follow a lot of researchers on twitter, which allows me to be in touch with people in my field. Something really cool these days – if a paper you put on ArXiv gets a lot of attention, sometimes people will discuss it on twitter. You can see long threads on papers and exchanges between really, really big names in the field, and you can even participate in that. In my field, some examples twitter-active researchers are Nikos Paragios, Ben Glocker, and Julia Schnabel – of course, they’re not just tweeting, they also do really great research!