The De Gruttola Symposium – Learning from Pandemics and celebrating an esteemed colleague

De Gruttola Symposium

The Symposium in honor of the career of Victor De Gruttola, held on Friday, May 12, drew together faculty, alumni, and external collaborators to reflect on Dr. De Gruttola’s contributions to the department and his involvement in infectious disease research, and to discuss current lessons from the COVID pandemic and ways to prepare future generations.  After a moving introduction from Biostats alumna Andrea Foulkes, the first panel, moderated by associate professor Rui Wang and comprising professor Michael Hughes, professor Xihong Lin,  professor Xihong LinBiostats alum and professor Eric Tchetgen Tchetgen, was asked about the statistical challenges that have been addressed successfully during the COVID pandemic and those that remain to be addressed.  In their responses panel members noted the continued need to combine observational and randomized evidence to deal with the shifting nature of pandemics, the need for more thought about the scale required of research efforts, the challenges of prediction and causal inference in shifting pandemic settings, and the need for major improvements in data collection and sharing. The second panel, moderated by Biostats alum Ravi Goyal and made up of associate professor Bethany Hedt-Gauthier, associate professor JP Onnela, associate professor Shahin Lockman, and senior lecturer Paige Williams commented on how to best prepare students for upcoming challenges in global public health.  Their comments and suggestions touched on the importance of international research experience for students, the need to develop a reliable evidence basis for policy as well as the production of better-quality data, the importance of breaking down barriers between siloed disciplines; and encouraging collaborative research early in professional training. The discussions were followed by highlights from a series of video interviews prepared as an oral history of the HIV/AIDS research at the School, along with a series of student tributes. On evidence throughout the event was the profound scope of Dr. De Gruttola’s influence, not just in the work of the department and the evolution of our understanding of AIDS transmission and prevention, but in the shape and meaning of the lives of his students and colleagues.  The Biostatistics Department recognizes Victor for a long career filled with meaningful research, mentorship, and activism, and will continue to reflect on his closing exhortation, “I would suggest that we think about the beautiful opportunity we have to use mathematical ideas; ideas from the computational algorithmic sciences, from genomics to molecular biology.  The opportunity to work in these areas with such wonderful colleagues.  And to do it all to protect vulnerable people.  That to me is an extraordinary, beautiful experience.”