Ipek Ensari

Hi, I am Ipek. I am an Associate Research Scientist at the Data Science Institute at Columbia University in New York City. My research revolves around the philosophy of “digital data for good”- maximizing the health benefits provided to the user/patient from their digital data obtained through in-the-wild sensing and self-tracking via mHealth apps. This involves taking a user-centered approach to the design of the mHealth technology, as well as provision of interpretable communication of their digital data. (photo credit: Pam Pasco @pamashley)

Recent News:

  • My latest work on digital sleep phenotyping using unsupervised mixture models has been published in Sleep Medicine.
  • ENDOMIC has been accepted to Not Film Fest 2021 in Italy for its European premiere! Taking place in-person during August 24th-26th, the festival’s first release was just announced.
  • ENDOMIC was selected to be a part of the Dances with Films Festival, which will take place in LA during August 26th-September 12th.


ipek ensari

photo credit: Robert Florida

I use mHealth and machine learning-based approaches to investigate physical activity for self-management of chronic symptoms like pain and anxiety. I focus on women’s conditions (endometriosis) and populations that are at greater risk for inequities with respect to adequate healthcare access (e.g., LGBTQ, racial/ethnic minorities).

My training background spans both patient-oriented clinical research (in the lab) and data-oriented approaches to ambulatory (out of the lab) measurement, estimation and prediction of physical activity, sleep, physiological outcomes (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), and psychological outcomes (e.g., stress, depressive symptoms). I evaluate these behavioral outcomes both from the perspective of the patient (e.g., intervention delivery), and from a data architecture perspective (e.g., use of appropriate trackers, extraction and summarization of mobile data).

In addition to my own research, I advise graduate students on wearable/mobile data-related research, and lead various STEM and data science-centered community outreach events.  In 2020, I collaborated with Camille Hollet-French, a Vancouver-based filmmaker, to make a film about endometriosis. The end product is ENDOMIC (@abloodycrisis), which had its world premiere at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.


My current projects focus on methods for combining actively-tracked and passively-collected mHealth data to delineate chronic symptom fluctuations over time and across individuals.

1. Women’s health, endometriosis, participatory mHealth research

A central aim of my research is to re-tool patient-generated data via mHealth technology to better characterize conditions that are traditionally poorly documented and not well understood

2. Wearables/sensors: Understanding health through data

I use informatics and data-driven approaches to delineate symptom trajectories in diseases with a dynamic course (e.g., endometriosis, multiple sclerosis), and identification of self-management approaches for their effective management

3. Physical Activity and Health:

As a trained kinesiologist, a focus on physical activity and its health outcomes is a central theme across my projects

Read More


An exhaustive meta-analytic review documenting a mysterious “women’s” issue, otherwise known as endometriosis.[1] 

[1]term used to describe a clinical etiology that thus far has only been identified in primates with a female reproductive system, an anatomical structure of decidedly lower importance in comparison to those of the male primate.

In the fall of 2020, I participated in the 13th Annual Imagine Film Festival’s Symbiosis short film competition. I partnered with Camille Hollett-French to make a film that expresses our frustrations about endometriosis from multiple perspectives. Camille is a Vancouver-based filmmaker who herself has endometriosis. The end product is ENDOMIC, a “documentary” through the lens of satire about modern medicine’s and society’s take on endometriosis. Using a mock-meets-doc format, the film weaves in real patient experiences in parallel with a narrative exploration of its history in the scientific literature, disparities in diagnosis and treatment, and lack of research funding, to raise awareness and help sense-making for patients.

ENDOMIC is unique in several aspects. First, we crafted its satirical story-telling using content from published peer-reviewed research and real patient experiences (even though some of them sound fictional at times!). Next, it features some of my most recent academic work demonstrating how mobile health technology and direct patient input can be used to improve our understanding of endometriosis. The film also discusses inclusive medicine and healthcare, a first in this realm, and about a third of the production and acting crew include members with endometriosis in real life.

You can follow ENDOMIC (@abloodycrisis) on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook. Click below to read more about the film’s world premiere at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival, media coverage, and reviews.


Teaching and Mentoring

I have been co-directing the DSI Data Science Bootcamp for the Obama Foundation Scholars since 2018, which will occur as a virtual 2-week bootcamp this fall. The goal is to strengthen the scholars’ data literacy, understanding of the field of data science, and learn to collaborate with data scientists in a data-driven decision process. Together with my colleague Dr. Vincent Dorie, we plan the schedule of didactic lectures, hands-on data science activities for the scholars, and also help them prepare a “pitch” on their social impact project to present to members of the campus. I teach exploratory data analysis and data visualization, and also facilitate activities on algorithmic bias.

I am also the director of the DSI Scholars and Data for Good Programs.

The goal of the DSI Scholars Program is to engage Columbia University’s undergraduate and master’s students in data science research with Columbia faculty through a research internship. The program connects students with research projects across Columbia and provides student researchers with an additional learning experience and networking opportunities. Through unique enrichment activities, this program aims to foster a learning and collaborative community in data science at Columbia.

The Data For Good Scholars program connects student volunteers to organizations and individuals working for the social good whose projects have developed a need for data science expertise. As “real world” problems with real world data, these projects are excellent opportunities for students to learn how data science is practiced outside of the university setting and to learn how to work effectively with people for whom data science sits outside of their subject area. Responsible Investor magazine recently covered (pdf version here) a project conducted by Rights CoLab, one of our Data for Good collaborators.

I work with students across a diverse range of backgrounds and specializations to provide guidance on various data-related topics. It is ALWAYS extremely exciting to see their progress, success, and acknowledgment of their accomplishments. Some recent student news:

  • One of my mentees, doctoral student Ashley Goodwin was named winner of the NEACSM 2020 Doctoral Category Student Investigator Competition for her presentation titled “Attenuated Response of Muscle Deoxygenation at Higher Workloads Determined by Near-Infrared Spectroscopy”.  Further, as the highest ranked abstract of any graduate student, she was also awarded the President’s Cup, a competition of all research poster presentations at the Fall meeting. As a member of Ashley’s doctoral dissertation advising team, I provide data science guidance and I am very happy about this outcome. I proposed a novel data analytic framework in this work, an earlier version of which was presented at a prior ACSM meeting. So it is always exciting to see acceptance and appreciation for my interdisciplinary data science implementations within domain-specific research questions.
  • Doctoral candidate Sylvia Cho’s work on fitness-for-use and quality issues in data from wearables and sensors was recently published in JMIR. This is a part of Sylvia’s doctoral work, which investigates core issues in the area of digital data, especially with respect to their secondary use.

New and Events

Columbia Alumni STEM Day

Photo Credit: Tian Zheng

Columbia Alumni STEM Day. In June 2019, DSI participated in the Annual Columbia Alumni STEM Day for the first time. I organized and led a team of students representing the DSI at this event to create an interactive project using data from the NYC open data website. The aim was to introduce kids to the field of data science,  help them better understand how to visualize and interpret data, put it into context and disseminate their findings. This project later led to a white paper submitted to the Computing Community Consortium, co-authored by me and led by one of the doctoral students involved in the project. Discussing use of open data sources and software for civically engaged education programs in schools, this paper won an award for best paper in the Fall of 2019. Following this, I led a workshop for school teachers at Teachers’ College based on this STEM Day project.


Ipek Ensari

Credit: Pam Pasco (@pamashley)

You can contact me at ie2145@columbia.edu. Thank you!

Click to go to my Linkedin profile