Alumni Interview with Miguel Marino, PhD ’11

Miguel Marino, PhD ’11
Associate Professor of Biostatistics
Department of Family Medicine
Oregon Health Science University

Where do you currently work and what are your job responsibilities?

I am an Associate Professor of Biostatistics in the Department of Family Medicine at Oregon Health Science University in Portland, Oregon. I also hold a joint appointment in the Biostatistics Group in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health. My job duties are typical for a professor (e.g., teaching, service, research) but my primary appointment in the department of Family Medicine allows me to utilize community-based statistical methods skills in impactful ways. In my work I apply these methods to primary care research questions, a vital platform for understanding and improving the health of families and communities.
What do you like most about your current position?

When I first arrived at OHSU Family Medicine, there were no other biostatisticians in my department; the research section was fairly new and comprised only a handful of clinician investigators. I have always been enamored with the idea of helping build something from the ground up (I was mentored by Marvin Zelen, and his influence rubbed off on me), and this has been a tremendous opportunity to do so. In the last six years (since I started at OHSU), through hard work and creative statistical thinking, we have secured over 20 grants, funded by a diverse set of federal agencies (NIH, CDC, AHRQ, etc.), and have more than tripled the size of our research section. Through this funding success, I have been able to assemble and lead a team comprised of an Assistant Professor and six Masters-level biostatisticians, which solely supports the OHSU Family Medicine research enterprise. The best part of my job is working with my team to continue advancing statistics in primary care research.


Why did you choose to study biostatistics and what led you to Harvard?

Growing up, my dream was to be a doctor. The idea of serving those who were sick was appealing to me. In high school, I realized I didn’t have the stomach to deal with certain aspects of medicine. So when it was time to go to college, I chose to major in math as it was the one thing I felt I was good at. In college, I was exposed to biostatistics and realized that this was a way to achieve my dream. I chose Harvard because they have connections to some of the world’s premier medical facilities. The Biostatistics Department is constantly working on interesting research and there are always opportunities for students to get involved. If I was interested in working on a specific project, the department could (and did) connect me with the right person. During my time there, I was able to work on a variety of research projects in AIDS/HIV, cancer, and public health.

What was the most rewarding part of your degree program? 

The dissertation process was the most rewarding part of earning my degree, as it taught me how to be independent in thought and research. You spend a couple of years taking courses and learning various segments of statistics, but the dissertation process allows you to put it all together. Writing my dissertation taught me how to build on what I learned in class: statistics is a continuously-evolving field and the dissertation process allows you to use the principles you learned in class to continue to build your understanding of novel statistical methods. I also learned the importance of mentoring, and that team research is exponentially better than solo research. I sought mentorship from senior faculty and my peers—a custom I still practice today. I learned a lot from my peers… I encourage everyone to build those peer mentor relationships and seek to provide some insight yourself (you would be surprised how your experience and point of view can impact your fellow classmates).


What was the most challenging part of your degree program?

The most challenging part of the program was honing my research interest. I came into the program not really knowing where I would focus my career. I took as many classes as I could (applied and theory) and hoped that I would figure it out eventually. I did end up doing so, but only after seeking different research opportunities, spending several hours brainstorming possibilities with mentors, and some introspection about what I thought I was good at and what I was passionate about. If you are in this same boat, I would encourage you to find mentors early. Also, look for mentors outside the department, to help give you a different perspective of the research world outside of biostatistics.


How did your experience at Harvard prepare you for your career?

Along with everything I’ve described above, Harvard makes you realize that the discipline of statistics plays a major role in most scientific disciplines: environmental health, public health, health policy, genetics, the -omics, and so many more. Statisticians are major contributors in almost every scientific field. As famously credited to pioneer statistician John Tukey, “The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.” While I agree with this, at Harvard I realized that it is also ok to find your own home, and play in your own backyard. Get to know the nooks and crannies, develop and maintain the grass, and really familiarize yourself with your space. For me, my home is primary care research. As you spend your time at Harvard playing in everyone’s backyard, feel free to consider the possibility of developing and growing in your own backyard.


What advice would you give to current or prospective students?

1) Ask questions—no question is dumb. You were selected into the program for a reason, but for some of us, impostor syndrome doesn’t end after graduation. It is something we continue to work through, but asking questions and having mentorship really helps.

2) Take time to build relationships with your fellow biostatistics students. Form study groups. It’s always good to learn from each other, as no one person knows it all. To this day, some of the Biostats students in my cohort are my best friends and we have grown professionally and personally together. Peer-to-peer mentorship lasts a lifetime.

3) I hid $100,000 somewhere inside the walls of FXB and left clues for how to find it all over the Biostats hallways. Just kidding! Find moments to laugh and enjoy your time at Harvard Biostats. Life only gets more hectic after you graduate.