Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Pei-Ying (Emily) Lin

Michael Wade
September 25, 2019

This week’s spotlight series features Dr. Pei-Ying (Emily) Lin, a visiting scholar from the National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei City, Taiwan. She is a specialist in pulmonary and critical care medicine, focusing on thoracic oncology. Her research interests include translational cancer research, data science, and precision medicine in cancer treatment.

What have been the major findings so far in your research? What could be the impact?

My major research field is lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. The driving force of lung cancer oncogenesis varies over different subtypes. My research topics primarily focus on dissecting mechanisms in order to develop therapeutics for current unmet needs. For example, CNS penetration, drug resistance, and poor response to immune checkpoint blockades in driver mutation positive cases.

What lessons have you learned throughout your career? How have these lessons drawn you to Vanderbilt?

After years of training in many topics, from clinical medicine to translational cancer research, I am a strong proponent for the importance of data science in this new era of medicine. High-dimensional data - whether structural or non-structural, genomics, proteomics, radiomics, or medical records - are becoming the core of modern medical research. Data integration and elaboration based on solidified analytical and verification processes and clinical experiences are now common practice. These are the reasons I am here at Vanderbilt – to further develop my understanding of data science and precision medicine.

What is your philosophy about research?

My philosophy about research is to discover the undiscovered etiology and/or mechanism of an unsolved problem, which can be a biological phenomenon or a disease, and to be honest and respectful to the data and findings. One should always integrate and interpret data properly, so that the research findings can make good to what inspires us to initiate the research project in the first place.

What are your thoughts on the debate between modern data science and traditional statistical practices?

The increasing importance of data science in the biomedical field is clear. Its application is most successful with strong teamwork and collaboration between data scientists and other researchers. Working to incorporate new techniques will only improve health and research outcomes.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt.

While my professional life keeps me very busy, I try to maintain my hobbies in music and arts. I enjoy listening to music and exercising to stay healthy and balance my work and life.

Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Heather Prigmore

Nick Shell
June 5, 2019

This week we've put the Spotlight on one of our newest staff biostatisticians, Heather Prigmore.  Heather's research here in the Department is focused on Global Health (specifically HIV research). She works with both the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health and Friends in Global Health.  Read on to learn more about Heather and her interest in statistics!

What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt?
For as long as I can remember, my fields of interest have been math and medicine, so as I went into college I knew that those were the two areas where I wanted to focus on. Although I changed my mind (and major) several times, I always stayed true to one of those interests. I actually did not discover the field of biostatistics/epidemiology until towards the very end of my undergraduate education when I was searching for a graduate program to attend…and I thought, what a perfect way to combine my two interests! After I finished my master’s at Texas A&M University, I moved across country to start my career as a Biostatistician.

I was drawn to Vanderbilt because of their reputation in research and their concentrated focus on continuing education. The field of statistics is developing quite rapidly, so being able to be a part of a department that highlights and emphasizes learning is incredible. I also liked that there are a large number of statisticians and opportunities for discussion.

What lessons have you learned from being a biostatistician?
Although I have only been a biostatistician for a little over two years, I have learned that communication is key.  With clinical collaborators, fellow statisticians, or anyone else in between, being transparent and honest is the best way to go. I have also learned that the interaction and discussion with fellow statisticians provides a much more valuable learning experience.

What is your best advice for aspiring statisticians?
My advice for aspiring statisticians is to keep an open mind and take any opportunity to learn. Do not be afraid to say “I don’t know” or ask questions. Knowledge will come with experience and what better way to learn than to dive into a topic you are not familiar with? The best statisticians are not necessarily those with the most knowledge of statistical methods; they are those that can communicate effectively and have a desire to learn.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt.
Outside of Vanderbilt, you can find me outdoors most of the time. I have a 7-year-old lab mix dog, Sadie, who keeps me active and busy. She loves being outside too, so she will go on any adventure with me (hiking, swimming, camping, jogging…you name it). I really enjoy interior design and am a little obsessed with the show "Fixer Upper" and Joanna and Chip Gaines’s brand Magnolia (the picture is at the Magnolia Silos – their store in Waco, TX). I also love to bake, play sports, try new foods and travel.

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you?
I have won call-in radio contests several times. Some of which have included tickets to a few different concerts, plus meet and greets with stars like Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Nettles (from the duo, Sugarland) and Jason Derulo. I have also won Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo tickets and small cash prizes.


Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Siwei Zhang

Nick Shell
May 29, 2019

This week's Spotlight series features one of our talented staff members, Siwei Zhang.  Read on to learn more about her current research and her enthusiasm for the field of biostatistics.  

Tell us about your research.  What have been the major findings so far and what are the next steps for your research?

I am involved in multiple types of projects related to both bioinformatics and biostatistics and I provide support of data manipulation and statistical models for such projects. One of the more interesting projects that I am involved in is a myelofibrosis related project. We used a novel statistical method to identify JAK2 somatic mutation carriers from the intensity data and did a case-control GWAS to get the significant variants, and then further phenotype analysis to allow the clinician to better understand this age-related disease. My goal and next step of this job is to develop a new tool focused on statistical genetics by myself and to make some contribution to a novel statistical model applied on the large-scale Electronic Medical Records.

What was your draw to the field of statistics? What lessons have you learned from being a biostatistician?
I took four years of statistics during my undergraduate study, which sparked my interest and excitement for this field, knowing how I could apply such mathematical formulas and probability theory to solve real-world problems.  I went on to pursue my master's degree in biostatistics. I became mostly interested in high dimensional data analysis in Electronic Medical Records and the application of statistics into genetics during my master's study, but I had not combined these two fields until I met my supervisor, Dr. Xu, at Vanderbilt. The most challenging part for me of being a biostatistician and what I have learned from my experience is to help interpret statistical knowledge to clinicians who are not familiar with statistics and also to understand the background of many clinical or biological problems. I think I still have a long way to go in this field so my long-term goal is to pursue a Ph.D. degree in the future.

What makes Vanderbilt special in your experiences of collaborating with others?
With Dr. Xu's help, I am involved in multiple kinds of projects in both data mining and clinical trials.  I have the opportunity to collaborate with many researchers who work with drug purposing, hematology, heart disease and so on, which is my favorite part about Vanderbilt.

What are your thoughts on controversial statistical topics such as the role of data science in the future, adjusting the p-value for multiple comparison, ethical issues, etc.?
Most of the traditional biostatistic methods are stable and have been developed for many years, but as the data resource is becoming larger, the development of precision medicine and more needs appear.  I believe data science is very important both now and in the future. I think there should be two parts of data science. The first part to consider is data.  For instance, we need to determine how we can best obtain the data and mange the database; this requires us to have some knowledge of the cloud based computing environment.  Along with this, we should focus on data mining and how to do some unsupervised work for reducing the dimension of data. The second part to consider is the science.  For example, if we want to develop a method or a tool focused on heart disease, we need to understand the disease first. Then we need to consider that the core is the statistical model; we need to apply or develop a model suitable for the data.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt. What are your hobbies? What are your goals for the future?
I like watching movies and my favorite movie star is Will Smith. I have watched his movie, "The Pursuit of Happiness," a total of 7 times. I don't have an exact goal for my life, because I think life is different from work and I think as long as I feel happy everyday and keep learning, life will be much better and better.

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you? (Until now, of course!)
I persisted in basketball exercise on the school basketball team for 7 years since junior high school, and I have been roller skating since I was 8 years old. My father used to be good at doing sports, so he taught me swimming and always took me to the swimming pool when I was a child. And the most interesting thing, I would say, is that although I am not a left-handed person, I can play badminton with either my right hand or the left hand. 


Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Cole Beck

Nick Shell
May 15, 2019

This week we put the focus on one of our IT members, Cole Beck.  Cole is one of our Senior Application Developers and is a Python and R enthusiast.  Read on to learn more about his role and work within the department.

What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt?
Vanderbilt was my first job outside of college.  Dr. Harrell (founder of the department and Chair at that time) was a big advocate of Linux and open source software which was very appealing to me as a computer science graduate.  Statistics is such a major part of sports and I enjoy the impact its had in evolving baseball. I'm very appreciative of working with great colleagues that play a role in evolving health research.

Tell us about your work and any publications you may have.
I'm more involved with writing software and R packages than publications.  Dr. Greevy and I have published the R package "nbpMatching."  I am currently working on several packages with Dr. Choi: "PhysicalActivity" summarizes wear time of accelerometer data and "pkdata" works with pharmacokinetic data. We're also working on a package to generalize several steps needed to prepare electronic health records for analysis.

What is your philosophy about research?
I'm mostly involved at the data preparation step in the research chain. My two most important rules are to be efficient and to keep reproducibility in mind.

What are your thoughts on controversial statistical topics?
Research data and code should be published and made publicly available. I think this would lead to better research practices, and eventually less controversy.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt.
I married a woman with the same name as my favorite text editor (Kate). I keep busy with sports by playing softball, ultimate frisbee, ice hockey, and golf; and I share Predators' season tickets. At home I stay busy with logic puzzles, video games, and board games.

Finally, tell us something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you.  (Until now, of course!)
I've been wearing my Indiana Jones hat for "Fedora Fridays" for about six years now. I get more compliments about that hat than for anything else I do.

Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Marisol Ramirez-Solano

Nick Shell
April 10, 2019

This week we've put the spotlight on Marisol Ramirez-Solano, a Statistical Genetic Analyst II in the Center for Quantitative Sciences.  Read on to learn more about how she came into her role in biostatistics!

What are your research interests and what have been the major findings so far?
I’m very interested in single cell RNA sequencing; I think it’s going to be a big topic in the future.  I don’t have many publications yet but I’m working to change that. In a recent publication, we describe the presence of non-host RNA fragments derived from microbiome and environmental bacteria in circulating lipoproteins.

What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt? 
I’m a bench scientist that migrated to the analysis side recently. In my last year of college, I
worked as a research intern studying inflammatory gene expression in patients with
nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. It was my first contact with research, genetics, and biostatistics; I
was hooked. Later, I enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Biochemistry, although my thesis
project was mainly focused in microRNA expression using high density microarrays. It was
because of this project that I started diving deeper into biostatistics and programming. Also
because of this project, I came to Vanderbilt as a summer student, and I ended up coming back
as an employee.

What is your best advice for aspiring statisticians?
My advice to aspiring statisticians is to never stop learning and to always find time to catch up with
new methods. A good thing to mention is that experimental design is extremely important,
statistics can’t rescue a poorly designed experiment.

What is your philosophy about research?
In my opinion, research should make reproducibility a norm. All of us involved in research can
contribute to this by making data, code, and results available, including detailed methods in
publications, keeping version control of analyses and software, publish in journals that
encourage data and code sharing, and request code and data when reviewing papers.

What makes Vanderbilt special in your experiences of collaborating with others?
When I joined Vanderbilt I quickly learned that most projects involve multiple groups and everyone
brings their expertise to the discussion. Working here has given me the opportunity to
collaborate with investigators of different backgrounds and research focuses, and I have learned a
lot in the process.

What are your thoughts on controversial statistical topics such as the role of data science in the future,
adjusting the p-value for multiple comparison, ethical issues, etc.?

I think data science will become even more important in the future, especially in healthcare.
Data science will play an essential role in everything from health record data to precision

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt. Do you have a significant other? Hobbies? 
Stuart, my partner, and I enjoy taking our dog, Sally Ann to the park and on hikes to the Warner
parks. We like watching movies at home, and cooking together. Recently, we started making
our own sourdough bread from scratch!  Also, I started knitting about 10 years ago, it is still my favorite hobby.

Finally, what is something that your colleagues do not know about you? (Until now, of course.)
I am a big fan of everything related to space exploration- the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn
and its moon Titan is my favorite.

Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Sharon Phillips

Nick Shell
March 28, 2019

This week's Spotlight features faculty member, Sharon E. Phillips, MSPH, an Associate in Biostatistics.  Read on to learn more about Sharon's research, interests and hobbies.  

Tell us about your research interests.
I have worked with a general surgical group for close to 10 years now. This group performs hernia repairs and does research related to these repairs. They established a registry 6 years ago and data is collected from practices across the country. This data has been used in research to identify factors associated with surgical site infections and surgical site occurrences. In one study we determined the infection rate was greater for patients who underwent a chlorhexidine scrub prior to surgery. This has changed the use of chlorhexidine scrub for some practices. The article was published in Journal American College of Surgeons in 2017. Other journals this group has published in include JAMA Surgery, J Surgical Research, Annals of Surgical Oncology. Other groups I have worked with in the past include urology, studied prostate, kidney and bladder cancer, and the study of non-small cell lung cancer with radiation oncology.

What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt?
I have always been interested in clinical/medical research and biostatistics is a way of being involved with research.  Likewise, I was drawn to Vanderbilt because of their reputation in clinical/medical research. I liked the fact there was a department of biostatistics and there would be other statisticians where I would be able to discuss analyses.

What are your thoughts on controversial statistical topics such as the role of data science in the future?
With the use of larger data sets, which includes electronic medical records, the mining of this “Big Data” will fall on data science to a certain degree. I do however think data science has to have an understanding of statistics to guide the data mining. Without a sound foundation in statistics, what they come up with may not be very meaningful.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt.
I have two grown children, a son and a daughter, both married. My son and his wife have two children, a girl and a boy. I have two Brussels Griffon dogs who think they are little people. I enjoy gardening, flowers and vegetables. I grow a variety of organic vegetables and hot peppers. I dry the hot peppers, grind them into a powder then add it to sea salt for spicy salt. I also grow and dry my own organic herbs. I guess you could say knitting and reading are hobbies as well.  What I have knitted most recently has been baby blankets (for the kids) and winter scarves for myself, daughter and daughter-in-law. When I read, it is mainly novels. One of my favorite authors has a character who is one of the foremost pathologists in the country and the books are about the different cases she is assigned. These novels include the autopsy details for many of the cases.

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you? (Until now, of course!)
When I was in junior high (this was grades 7-9), I was on the newspaper staff in 8th grade and served as the editor for the school newspaper in 9th grade. Because they still used typesetting, I learned to read backwards as the school did not want to pay to have 1-2 copies run for us to proofread the articles.

Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Laurie Samuels

February 28, 2019

This week's Spotlight is on Laurie Samuels, PhD, Research Assistant Professor in the Vanderbilt Department of Biostatistics.  Learn more about Laurie's path to biostatistics and her love of nature and greyhounds.

What was your draw to biostatistics? What has served as the pathway to your position?
I took the scenic route to biostatistics. I graduated from college in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in Religious Studies, but rather than continue on in that field, I followed my lifelong love of plants and spent the next several years working in horticulture. In 1999, I decided that I was ready for a career that would place less strain on my wrists and knees, and through great fortune, I got a job working for Mark Lipsey at Vanderbilt's Peabody College. Despite my lack of training in program evaluation, he hired me to code studies for a meta-analysis--- I remember him saying that the ability to read a text closely, which I had certainly developed in my Religious Studies classes, was the most important skill for the job. This was my introduction to the world of research.

I wish I could say it was during that first research job that I decided to become a statistician, but my career took a few more twists and turns, including a painful one (for both me and my students) in which I attempted to teach eighth grade math and science. Eventually I found myself back at Peabody, this time in a different research center, and when one of the center's data-entry programs stopped working, I rediscovered my childhood love of programming. One thing led to another, and in 2007 I began auditing courses in Vanderbilt's computer science department and learning SAS on the job.

After I passed my SAS certification exam, my supervisor at the research center decided it was time to reclassify my position. Through what later turned out to have been a Human Resources error, I was classified as a Biostatistician II. I decided that if this was going to be my job title, it would be good to know something about biostatistics! Luckily for me, Vanderbilt's very own Department of Biostatistics was getting ready to offer its first class. In August 2009, I enrolled in Principles of Modern Biostatistics, taught by Robert Greevy, and by Thanksgiving I was totally hooked. I applied for the department's new PhD program and was accepted into the first cohort.

Throughout graduate school, I was impressed by the kindness of the people in this department and by the respectful way in which people disagree with each other. There are a lot of things to argue about in statistics, and there's also a long history of acrimonious debate in the field. But in this department, I saw people speaking up firmly about their own points of view, while still recognizing the right of other people to see things differently. I was also very impressed by the commitment to reproducible research, statistical integrity, and lifelong learning that I saw throughout the department. It was a great honor to be offered a faculty position in our department after I completed my PhD.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt. Do you have a significant other? Children? Pets? What about your hobbies?
My life partner, Lisa Dordal, is a poet who teaches in the English department at Vanderbilt. We live with a retired racing greyhound ("Nick of Time", or "Nicki" for short), and all three of us like to go for walks in Percy Warner Park. I also love to sing and dance. I sing in my church choir, and I dance in the elevator at work if I'm the only one in there.

Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Matt Shotwell

Nick Shell
January 29, 2019

This week our Spotlight series is taking a closer look at Matt Shotwell, PhD, Associate Professor of Biostatistics.  Learn more about his research interests, hobbies and thoughts on adjusting the p-value for multiple comparison.

What are your research interests and what have been the major findings so far?
One of my research interests is the design and analysis of ‘challenge-response’ experiments in which a complex system is experimentally perturbed and its subsequent behavior is used to make inferences about the system’s inner workings. I am especially interested in designing this type of experiment such that the ‘response’ is maximally informative. In pharmacokinetic experiments - where participants are first administered a drug and its concentration is later measured in the blood - we have shown that ancillary perturbations that occur in the hospital setting, such as hemodialysis, can induce informative fluctuations in the blood concentration of drugs (Shotwell et al. 2016:  Between 2013 and 2018, I served as principal investigator of a multi-institutional, NIH-funded research grant to study the optimal design of challenge-response experiments in cardiac electrophysiology (NIH-R01HL118392). We hope that the the findings of our work will reduce the resource (e.g., human, animal, and financial) burden of this type of experimental research.

Tell us us about any  leadership positions, grants obtained, awards won, and/or committees you have served on.
I lead our department’s collaboration plan with the Department of Anesthesiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Biostatisticians, Yaping Shi and Sarah Feng, also contribute substantially to this collaboration. Our team has had many opportunities to collaborate with anesthesiologists in a variety of basic and clinical research. From 2011 until 2017, I served as the Statistical Editor-in-chief for the peer-reviewed journal Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, and I currently serve as an Associate Statistical Editor for the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt? 
I was drawn to statistics while studying in a graduate program in biology (specifically in environmental ecology). After earning a PhD in biostatistics from the Medical University of South Carolina, I was drawn to Vanderbilt’s Department of Biostatistics because of its balanced emphasis on methodological and collaborative work, and its focus on reproducible research and use of open-source software. I met Frank Harrell (then Chair of our department) at the useR 2010 conference, where I promised to help organize useR 2012 at Vanderbilt. I did, and I stayed!

What is your best advice for aspiring statisticians? 
It’s cliché, but I advise students (of statistics or any field) to find a research topic that has potential impact in an area that is important to them, e.g., difficult-to-treat disease or climate change. Having worked as a biostatistician for nearly a decade, I’ve found it much easier to stay motivated to work on projects that are meaningful to me outside of statistics.

What are your thoughts on controversial statistical topics such as adjusting the p-value for multiple comparison, the choice between Bayesian, likelihood, or frequentists, ethical issues, etc.?
Unjustified adjustment for multiple comparisons is one of my ‘pet-peeves’. Adjustment to control a familywise type-I error probability (i.e., adjustment for multiple comparisons) should not be done unless there is strong justification for a familywise hypothesis, e.g., in a sequential clinical trial.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt. What about your hobbies?  Do you have a significant other? Children? 
Outside of my work at Vanderbilt, I occasionally provide independent consulting services. I have worked on a variety of external projects, including economic distress research and civil litigation (as an expert witness)! I love the the outdoors, camping, hiking, cycling, jogging, and skiing. I have two sons Evan and Luke, daughter Avery, and my wife Mary is also a PhD statistician!

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you? 
I have maintained a blog (more or less ‘active’) at for more than 10 years!  I enjoy writing on technical topics including statistics, electronics, and computer programming. I occasionally write about my kids or outdoor adventures.


Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Yuwei Zhu

Nick Shell
January 23, 2019

This week's Spotlight series features one of our great faculty members, Yuwei Zhu.  Read on to learn more about her impressive research with vaccine studies, and heed her advice for aspiring statisticians.  

What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt?  
Growing up, I always found math to be a riveting subject of study. As a college student in China, I eventually studied medicine instead, but I majored in preventive medicine which required additional courses in statistics and epidemiology, helping to nurture my interests in mathematics and statistics. 

After joining my husband in America, we lived in Binghamton, NY where it was cold ten months out of the year, so we decided to go to somewhere in the South for my graduate education. However, Houston, TX was also too hot for me so eventually, we decided to move to somewhere a bit less warm and Vanderbilt was a perfect fit. 

What have been some of the major findings so far in your research?  
One of my main research interests is influenza vaccine effectiveness. As a vaccine advocate and researcher, I have been involved in influenza surveillance since 1999 and have been an integral part of research groups like the New Vaccine Surveillance Network (NVSN), Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA), Vaccine & Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEU), and US Hospitalized Adult Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network (HAIVEN).  I also conduct data analyses to estimate disease burdens and influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) by ED, outpatient and inpatient settings and by different age groups.  Our findings have provided scientific evidence for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to make vaccine recommendations. I have had papers published in the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, the Journal of Pediatrics, the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, and many others. Our next steps include studying household transmission of influenza viruses in the community and assessing the safety of quadrivalent, live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4) versus quadrivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV4) among certain risk populations such as children with persistent asthma.  

Other research I’ve done has included a large etiology of pneumonia in the community, which determined the burden of pneumonia hospitalizations in U.S. children and adults and identified viruses and bacteria associated with these hospitalizations. Manuscripts describing this study’s results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Based on this study, we have built a prediction model to estimate pneumonia severity among children and our next step is conducting clinical trials using electronic health record (EHR) data to validate our model. 

Tell us us about an impactful publication you have had.
I still remember my first New England Journal of Medicine paper published in 2006. It’s about the under-recognized burden of influenza in young children. In this paper, we estimated influenza rates by different medical settings.  Later, the influenza vaccine was recommended to >=  two years old rather than >= five years old among children after ACIP updated its guideline based on our results and other evidences. The recommendation helped me realize the importance of our study, the work we do, and its impact to the general population’s health. 

What lessons have you learned from being a biostatistician?
The most important lesson I learned during my 20 years working is that we need to keep updating our knowledge.  As you know, knowledge never stops accumulating, and we must work rigorously and tirelessly to make sure we’re keeping up with the newest, cutting-edge methods and techniques. Learning from colleagues, taking online courses, attending seminars and conferences regularly are great ways to continue education, which help us apply the most appropriate methods on projects.  

What is your best advice for aspiring statisticians?  
My best advice for aspiring statisticians is that the best statistician isn’t the one with the best technical skills. Being able to communicate properly and work alongside others is just as important. Statisticians need to be well rounded.

What is your secret to training up the next generation of statisticians?
I think I’m truly blessed because my MPH students tend to be very self-motivated in my experience. When it comes to teaching them, I strive to make sure that I’m as available as possible and offer them a variety of approaches and examples so that their learning is dynamic and memorable. I’m trying to provide them with an experience and education that goes beyond what somebody could find on a youtube video. Most of them value biostatistical support as a core part in their future research.  

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt . . . your family, your hobbies and your future goals.
My husband and I have been married more than 25 years and we have two wonderful sons. My eldest son just graduated college and my younger son is currently enjoying his first year at college!  Growing up, my boys had dogs, birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, saltwater and freshwater fish, and a turtle (which is the only still with us today). I enjoy reading novels, traveling and tasting food from around the world.  I also like having projects to do in my spare time. Currently, I’m trying to create a vegetable garden in my backyard. I’m also trying to participate more in local statistics or non-statistics events and maybe even write a book for my boys or their kids to know how we came to the States and lived. 

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you? (Until now, of course!) The first flight I ever flew on was the one that took me to America. I landed in Anchorage, Alaska! 



Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Jennifer Morse

Nick Shell
January 7, 2019

Next up in the series is one of our wonderful staff biostatisticians, Jennifer Morse, who shares more about her interests in the field and admits her guilty pleasure for Candy Crush Saga!  Read on to learn more . . .

What is your research focused on and what have been the major findings so far?
My interests include health policy, survival analysis and reproducible research. I currently have 2 collaborations: The Vanderbilt Center for Kidney Disease and Anesthesiology. In my collaboration with Nephrology, we are interested in looking at what leads to long term kidney disease. We’ve produced several abstracts and papers looking at the effects of factors such as medication use, exercise, and other demographic factors and patient history. In Anesthesiology, I’ve worked on several projects focused on inflammation and oxygen use during surgery and how those factors can have short-term and long-term outcomes that affect patient’s health.

What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt and what has served as the  pathway to your current position? 
I was always interested in the intersection of math and medicine. In addition to my statistics degree, I also have a biomedical engineering undergraduate degree and a masters in informatics. Prior to joining this department, I was part of the Department of Anesthesiology, where I assisted in generating and analyzing data for clinical studies. I felt myself reaching the limits of my knowledge and pursued my masters degree at Texas A&M online while working full-time. I love being a biostatistician in this department.

What lessons have you learned from being a biostatistician?
One of the lessons I’ve learned so far is the importance of working with investigators to teach them that statisticians are more than just data analyzers at the end of a project but rather we should be viewed as a resource throughout the project. One of the most important roles of the statistician is to tease out the exact research question the investigator is interested in before rushing in to collect data.

What makes Vanderbilt special in your experiences of collaborating with others? What are your thoughts on controversial statistical topics such as the role of data science in the future, adjusting the p-value for multiple comparison, the choice between Bayesian, likelihood, or frequentists, ethical issues, etc.?
I love the collaborative environment and the opportunities for continuous education. I love hearing about what other collaborators are working on and the exciting research being produced by our teams. There is so much potential for data science to be used to advance medical research and make an impact in a variety of areas. In our department, there are many well-researched and passionate individuals who have strong opinions on controversial topics like those mentioned and I enjoy the rich discussions between those teaching and learning.

Tell us about your family and your life outside of Vanderbilt.
My husband and I are fully engrossed in all things Vanderbilt. We met as undergrads in the marching band. We are not only employees but alumni as well, and fans of all the sports programs. We have two young children, Carter and Ellie, who keep us busy and a puppy named Mango.

We love traveling! We make annual trips to visit our families in Hawaii and Florida and love exploring new places in the US and abroad. Our kids had passports before they were 1 and are already more well-traveled than many adults. Coming up this year, we have family trips planned to Hawaii, Japan, Jamaica and Greece! Always busy, but always having fun!

When in town, one my hobbies is trivia. Every year, I take the online jeopardy test to try and gain a spot on the show but haven’t yet been successful. We’ve also been going to weekly bar trivia for over 10 years now. Lately, you can find our team “Toddlers in a Tavern” at Edley’s or Crow’s Nest around Nashville. My 3 year old recently got to contribute an answer for the first time and was so excited!

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you? (Until now, of course!)
I have a small (not really that small) addiction to the phone game, Candy Crush Saga, and have been playing for over 5 years. I’ve recently passed level 4000 and don’t anticipate stopping until they kill the game.