Holiday Message from Chair Xihong Lin

lin-2015As the year closes and we celebrate the holiday season, I would like to express my warm appreciation to all of you in the Harvard Biostatistics community for your many contributions to the department during my first year as Chair. It has been such a privilege to work with first-rate faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows, staff and alumni this year. Your dedication, commitment to excellence, upbeat spirit, enthusiastic engagement, and strong support are inspiring and have made our department a very special place. I would particularly like to thank Brent Coull (our new Associate Chair in charge of education),  Paige Williams (our new  Director of Graduate Study for the PhD program), David Wypji (continuing in his role as the Director of the Biostatistics SM programs) and John Quackenbush (continuing in his role as the Director of the Computational Biology & Quantitative Genetics SM program)  for their leadership in our educational initiatives and activities, and for their and our faculty’s tireless efforts to enhance our graduate education.

It is an exciting time for both our department and our field, especially given the rich new  opportunities provided by data science. The department is making a significant expansion in faculty, and as you will read, we’re also celebrating several promotions. We are searching for four junior faculty members this year:  three assistant/associate professors in big data, statistical genetics and genomics, and computational biology; and a lecturer/senior lecturer in health data science. We’ll be recruiting even more faculty in the next few years, and I would appreciate your help in identifying strong candidates for our department.

It is also an exciting time for Harvard. The university is actively planning an exciting Data Science initiative, and our department is a key player along with Statistics, Computer Science, Biomedical Informatics, the Institute of Quantitative Social Science and other departments throughout the university.  Under the leadership of Rafa Irizarry and Brent Coull, the proposed new SM degree program in Health Data Science (HDS) was approved at the SPH faculty meeting on December 16. If approved by the University, the first cohort of HDS SM students will be enrolled in Fall 2017, joining two other new data science masters programs at Harvard: an MS in Data Science offered jointly by Statistics and Computer Science, and an MS in Biomedical Informatics offered by the Harvard Medical School. Neil Sheppard became the new Chair of the Department of Statistics in July, and we have been working to build upon our strong ties with our colleagues across the river. The first joint Biostats-Stat JSM reception was a blast, as was the first joint seminar held in November.  We are also building strong ties with the new Department of Biomedical Informatics at the Harvard Medical School, chaired by Isaac Kohane. Our international partnerships are also expanding: in December, Masahiro Takeuchi (ScD ’91) of Kitasato University arranged for us to host a visit by Aiko Shimajiri, Minister of State for Special Missions and Okinawa and the Northern Territories, and Member of the Cabinet for Science and Technology of Japan, to discuss research collaborations with Japan.

As you will read about in more detail in this newsletter, in May we celebrated the legacy of our beloved founding father Marvin Zelen, and the retirement of our distinguished former chair Nan Laird.  I was so glad to see so many colleagues, former students and friends at these two events.We will be celebrating two events with symposia this spring: the retirement of former Dean for Academic Affairs Jim Ware on April 29, 2016, and Dave Harrington’s birthday on May 2, 2016.  Dave’s symposium is being organized jointly with the DFCI Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology and the Department of Statistics. Please save the dates! 

I am very grateful for the efforts of our faculty, students, postdocs, and staff in embarking upon numerous initiatives to build a stronger Biostatistics community and to enhance our intellectual working environment. For example, our new weekly email newsletter has quickly become very popular.  I encourage our alumni and friends of the department to subscribe to the newsletter and to contribute information about your activities so we can share them with the larger Biostats Community. Other community-building events we’ve organized over the past year include faculty-student lunches, picnics, talent shows, and a very fun department “Meet and Greet” in September.  

Organizing these activities, and keeping the department running at top speed, would be impossible without our outstanding and dedicated staff. They care deeply about the department and work tirelessly and energetically to provide the best support possible for our faculty, postdocs and students.  I’m sure you will join me in thanking them for their help this past year. 

I very much look forward to working together with all of you as we enter 2016.  I wish you and your family very Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!