Please help us welcome new Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, Dr. Briana Joy Kennedy Stephenson, to the Department! Learn more her career path, research interests, and plans for her time at Harvard here:
Briana had an affinity for mathematics and science since she was a very young child. Having matriculated through the public schools in her hometown of Columbia, Maryland, Briana attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. At MIT, Briana was a member of the varsity volleyball team and an avid leader of both the Black Students’ Union and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority – a national public service organization.
Briana’s interest in biostatistics was not a linear one. Majoring in math and pre-med in college, she wrestled with how to mesh her two passions that would best augment her interests. As a first-year medical student, during a biostatistics seminar, it became painstakingly clear to Briana that she was in the wrong place. She abruptly withdrew from medical school and shifted her focus to biostatistics. While Briana needed to come to this discovery on her own, it was right under her nose the whole time. Both her mother and late aunt had careers in public health and were also biostatisticians. The apple had not fallen far from the tree.
While pursuing a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) in biostatistics at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, Briana worked as a mathematical statistician at the Food and Drug Administration. After receiving her MPH, she worked as an ORISE biostatistics research fellow for the Department of Defense in Psychological Health and Strategic Operations. As a fellow, her interest in population health awakened. The methodological challenges encountered with large population data motivated her to increase her knowledge in the field and return to school. She enrolled in the biostatistics program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
As a PhD student, she worked with Dr. Amy Herring (Harvard ScD ’99). Briana’s research was focused on Bayesian nonparametric clustering approaches to nutritional epidemiology. Her work earned her both national and international recognition, as well as, the UNC Gillings’ Dissertation Award for Public Health Impact.
Currently, Briana is completing her postdoctoral research at the UNC Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center, working on the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos with Drs. Jianwen Cai and Daniela Sotres.
Having enjoyed teaching both undergraduate and graduate students, a career in academia was a natural fit for Briana, providing her the unique opportunity to merge her interests in mentoring students with research and collaborations across a myriad of fields. The intersection of these areas is what captivated Briana’s interest in Harvard’s Biostatistics department. Briana describes this intersection as an “all-you-can-eat buffet” of public health opportunities. On joining the Biostatistics department, Briana states, “I am humbled to join the Harvard T.H. Chan family and call this amazing group of world-renown faculty and researchers, my colleagues.”
At Harvard, Briana plans to continue her work creating innovative model-based clustering techniques that will accommodate the complexities of continually diversifying populations, such as the United States. She is excited to return to the Boston area, and work “on the other side of the river” where her educational journey began.
In her spare time, Briana leads a high school girls empowerment program through her sorority and serves as an assistant superintendent and teacher in her local church school. Briana also enjoys playing volleyball, practicing yoga, binge-watching TV, and most recently playing Settlers of Catan with her family.