2020 Year-End Chair’s Message

Looking back at 2020, it is easy to focus on the challenges that the community in our department, and our larger society, have faced and continue to confront. But one of the defining characteristics of the Biostatistics Department and its members this year has been the resilience that we have all shown in the midst of what has at times felt like ceaseless turmoil. I think we as a department should take great pride in how we’ve responded and supported each other through the past twelve months.

When the pandemic first began, thanks to the outstanding efforts of our staff, faculty, and students, we were able to efficiently transition to a new life as a virtual department, with an eye toward maintaining high educational standards, while also providing comfort and stability for one another in a tumultuous time. The compassion, caring, and understanding that we saw exhibited during the transition was nothing short awe inspiring. At the same time, we managed to continue doing outstanding research and many of our students, postdocs, research associates, research scientists, and faculty shifted their work to include COVID-related studies as noted throughout this newsletter.

Nine months into the pandemic, we continue to adapt to an ever-evolving situation, moving forward together. Our students deserve a great deal of credit for supporting and expanding the department’s repertoire of both academic and social events. This year’s Lightning Talks have been particularly well attended, as have thesis defenses and seminars. The Faculty Fireside Chats have allowed students to get to know their faculty, and have shown them that we too experience self-doubt or make mistakes that lead us down blind alleys. And the online talent show and game night have helped provide some of the social connections that have been sorely missed. The use of virtual technology to maintain our connections is something we will surely build upon in a post-COVID life.

It has also been inspirational to see the ways in which members of our department have responded to the violence and oppression experienced by people of color. Quite a few members of our department took to the streets and raised their voices in protest as the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and far too many others further emphasized the extent and effects of institutional racism. The movement for change has resonated throughout our department and beyond, and we are grateful for the engagement of the members of the Biostatistics Diversity and Inclusion Group (B-DIG) and a number of our alumni who have reached out to share their personal experiences and offer their support in our efforts to promote anti-racism, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We are also extremely appreciative to members of each of the department’s constituencies who have participated in recent focus groups led by VISIONS consultants that will provide an organizational cultural assessment and inform how we prioritize next steps as we move into the spring semester.

And, if nothing else, the events of this year should help remind us of the importance of the work that we all do. This year we have seen how pandemics and infectious diseases, structural racism, social and economic inequity, climate change, and social policy and behavior are all interrelated parts of a highly complex network of factors that influence public health. As a department, we stand uniquely positioned to provide leadership in the quantitative health sciences so critically important for addressing these challenges and to work towards a brighter future built on a foundation of robust data analysis.

Thank you all for your being wonderful colleagues, collaborators, supporters, and friends. Happy holidays and best wishes for a healthy, happy, and successful 2021. We are so proud to be members of this incredible department, and can’t wait to see you all in person again.

John and Brent