2022 Year-End Chair’s Message

John Quackenbush and Brent Coull2022 Year-End Chair’s Message

The past year has been marked by a slow and steady return to a sense of normalcy—both within our department and in the world around us. As smart public health interventions—such as testing and vaccination—helped to reduce the extent and severity of COVID infections, it has been wonderful to see our faculty, students, researchers, and staff making their way back to campus. As students congregate on the bridge doing homework, faculty and their teams gather to discuss research, and our administrative and financial staff members work hard to make it all work, we are constantly reminded that the strength of our department comes from its people and their interactions with each other. Sharing ideas, seeking solutions, and challenging each other to think deeply are key elements that help fuel innovation—and all are made easier when we sit face to face, or have a chance encounter in the hall, or pop into someone’s open door to ask a quick question. Although there is still more work to do to rebuild our sense of community, it is hard not to feel that we’ve crossed a threshold.

Our department has continued its momentum forward in other important ways. Dr. Nima Hejazi joined our faculty this summer—our sixth outstanding new Assistant Professor hire in five years. These junior faculty members have infused new energy into the department and helped to expand our areas of expertise– promoting new and innovative methods in biostatistical and quantitative health science, and reaffirming the importance of robust, data-driven decisions in health and medicine. Our continued ranking as the #1 Biostatistics Doctoral Program the country is a testament to our commitment to bringing the best and brightest to our community.

That commitment is also seen in the outstanding students, postdocs, research associates, and (senior/principal) research scientists we continue to recruit to our department. Working in areas that range from clinical trials to environmental health, from digital phenotyping to infectious and chronic disease, and from whole genome analyses to nutrition—and beyond—our researchers have embraced the challenge of increasingly complex data and pioneered the development of methods that have allowed us to gain even more valuable insights into cause and effect in human health. Much of our success has been powered by a willingness to think about biostatistics broadly and to welcome statisticians, network scientists, data scientists, and computational biologists into a supportive environment in which we help each other succeed.

Our work is expertly enabled by our department staff, including the administrative and grants management teams, who work both behind the scenes and on the front lines to make our research and educational goals possible. It has been particularly rewarding to see members of our staff growing into new roles and taking on new challenges to improve our productivity and efficiency.

Another key aspect of our success has been a departmental commitment to advancing equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We held another year of our highly successful summer pipeline programs– including the Summer Program in Biostatistics & Computational Biology for underrepresented undergraduate students, and the StatStart program and Data Science in Action program (co-hosted with HMS), both geared toward underrepresented high school students. The Donald Hopkins Predoctoral Scholars Program welcomed one new student this fall, and saw another scholar graduate with their SM degree and go on to pursue a PhD at Emory University. Our EDIB Committee has been hard at work on this year’s goals, which are listed on the revamped website. Other groups in the department,  including the Biostatistics Diversity and Inclusion Group (BDIG), the Mental Health Working Group, and the SM and PhD Student Committees continue their efforts to bolster and improve the quality of life and experience for everyone in our community.

After three years of COVID, we should all recognize how important our department’s work truly is. Sound public health decisions require strategic collection of appropriate high-quality data and the development of methods to allow extraction of reliable information from the data we collect. As a department, we stand uniquely positioned to provide leadership in the quantitative health sciences so critically important for addressing today’s challenges and as a community, this is something we can best do together.

Thank you all for being wonderful colleagues, collaborators, supporters, and friends. Happy holidays and best wishes for a healthy, happy, and successful 2023!

John and Brent