BIOSTAT CONNECTIONS HEARS FROM FACULTY AND STUDENTS

by Dr. Diane Fairclough and Beow Yeap

Faculty and students in the department come from varied backgrounds where that diversity contributes to the richness of our profession. This article draws on interviews with several of our students and faculty to tell of their entrance to the field of biostatistics.

David Harrington is Professor of Biostatistics who studied mathematics as an undergraduate. Later, in the Coast Guard, statistics were used to study search and rescue methods at sea. Dave believes Biostatisticians should be trained to be part of a research team rather than reactive critics. With a larger picture of the scientific question, we can deal with dilemmas that are not purely statistical and ask questions like "Should the study be done?", rather than "What is the sample size?".

Robert Gray is Associate Professor of Biostatistics. Bob also started as a mathematics undergraduate. During doctoral studies in operations research and statistics, he was drawn by applications and the challenge of inference from partial knowledge derived from observational data. He believes that the conflict of controlling Type I error and the potential of important discoveries through exploratory analysis is one of our greatest challenges.

Louise Ryan is Associate Professor of Biostatistics. She was advised to study actuarial science, but inspiring undergraduate statistics teachers opened another avenue leading to biostatistics. Louise also identified the challenge of maintaining statistical control in light of the richness of studies with multiple outcomes. Conservative approaches of focusing on one or two main hypotheses fail to tap the wealth of data that can and should be utilized.

Kathleen Propert is Assistant Professor of Biostatistics. After receiving a degree in nutrition, she obtained a job in a "rat lab". When all the rats died she learned to analyze data. She then completed her doctoral studies in this department. Kathy thinks we need to educate scientists and the public about the power of statistical methods as research and informational tools. Secondly, more thought should be given to innovative non-classical designs early in the life of a research project.

Daniel Scharfstein completed a Master's this year, and is continuing in the doctoral program. Starting in business and engineering, he became interested in probability theory while studying operations research. He found probability to be limited on its own and combined the natural extension to statistics with his interest in health and environmental issues.

Andrea Troxel completed her third year in the department, currently working on her dissertation. She came to the department directly after undergraduate work in applied mathematics. A course in data analysis made biostatistics seem the perfect bridge to her interests in biology and medicine. She is particularly interested in cancer research.

Shu Zhang has completed her first year of study in the doctoral program. Studying biostatistics as a medical student in China, she recognized that biostatistics holds the key to demonstrating the power of traditional Chinese medicine. She then became editor of a medical journal where her duties included statistical analysis. Her goal is to pursue applied research, especially in traditional Chinese medicine.

Last modified $Date: 1994/12/01 20:23:33 $ by Evelyn Ophir, ophir@hsph.harvard.edu