Faculty Interview: David Wypij

David WypijWhere did you grow up?  Can you point to something in your life that may have influenced your decision to study biostatistics?

I grew up in Cheektowaga, NY, a suburb of Buffalo, as the oldest of eight children. My grandparents immigrated from Poland and mine is the first generation to go to college. I have well over 100 first cousins — my mom and dad both came from large families!

In terms of deciding on Biostatistics as a discipline to focus on, math was always my favorite course in high school and I was a math major in college. My undergrad stat course was so boring that I avoided statistics for years. I earned a PhD in Operations Research from Cornell. I then looked for career options that focused more on helping people (e.g., biostatistics) rather than the defense and business applications most Operations Research graduates focus on. 

What would you like to share about your own educational background or experience?  Any memories from your own years as a PhD or SM student?

My biggest memories of my school experiences were liking Clarkson College (in Potsdam, NY) and Cornell (in Ithaca, NY) because they were rural and pretty with lots of outdoor activities, and disliking Brown (in Providence, RI) because my bicycle was stolen and my car was broken into and it was in a very urban setting. 

How long have you lived in the Boston area and how long have you worked in the Department of Biostatistics?

I’ve been in Boston since 1987 when I became a postdoc here, joining the faculty in 1989. So I’ve been at Harvard my whole professional (post-PhD) life, together with my efforts at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

What are your own research interests?

My research interests are applied and focus on novel applications of multivariate data methods and smoothing to clinical research problems arising in pediatric clinical trials and longitudinal cohort studies. I work half-time at Children’s Hospital, where I have long been involved with single- and multi-center clinical trials and studies in pediatric cardiology and ICU management, neurodevelopment, and adolescent health. I have previously worked on problems related to respiratory epidemiology with the Six Cities study and malaria with the Severe Malaria in African Children clinical research network. 

How would you summarize what your job entails in one sentence?

My job involves being a teacher and collaborator of biostatistics and being a mentor to students at Harvard and junior staff at Children’s. I guess I do and teach the same thing — biostatistics.

What would you like the students to know about your responsibilities as Director of Master of Science Programs?

As Director of Master of Science Programs I help with Master’s admissions, orientation, advising, funding, and mentoring. That includes working with the Master’s students themselves as well as the faculty who advise Master’s students as course advisors, Master’s thesis advisors, or research project supervisors. My door (or e-mail) is always open to students (and faculty advisors) with questions, and I often serve as an informal mentor to many of the Master’s students given my teaching BIO 210 and BIO 222, so I get to know most of the Master’s students fairly well.

How do you see our Master’s programs evolving, especially given rapid changes in the field of biostatistics?

I think our Master’s programs will continue to evolve to include more emphasis on big data, statistical computing, data science, and genetics and genomics, in addition to a continued focus on inference, regression methods, and clinical trials. In addition, we hope to work on finding more opportunities for research assistantships and practical experience for Master’s students. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy what I do — both in teaching, student administration, and committee work at Harvard and in collaborations, clinical research, and mentoring at Children’s Hospital. It helps that most of the people I work with are nice as well (e.g., Jelena!) But I also enjoy relaxing a bit on the weekends in Vermont.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

Outside of work, I enjoy hiking and biking in Vermont, eating vegetarian food (since 1996), caring for my tropical fish and three Chinese box turtles (I’ve had Queenie, Prince, and Pawn since 1992), watching episodes of The X-Files, and listening to The B-52s.