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: Trent Hand

Nick Shell
January 7, 2019

This week's spotlight features Trent Hand, an Associate Application Developer in the Center for Quantitative Sciences.  Learn more about Trent's role in the group and congratulate him as he and his wife prepare for their first child.

What was your draw to Vanderbilt and/or this Department and what are your current goals?
As I interviewed several places for my 2nd development position I paid special attention to attitude and atmosphere. The advice given to me was to focus on finding a place where I truly enjoyed the people and culture and not to worry so much about the tech stack. After meeting Lena, David, and the rest of the team, I was struck by their sense of comradery and close nature. The feeling was one of genuine affection toward each other and a purpose to the work the team was doing.

Now that I have 6 months in my position I can tell the hunch was not misplaced. We are a team in every sense of the word and I really enjoy it. This is the best job I’ve ever had.

My goals are simple at the moment. Being the newest developer, I strive to solve challenges independently and take as much work off of the senior developer's plate as possible. I would like to rise up to a senior developer position in the next 5-7 years at Vandy. Also, as a first time father-to-be, most of my planning is around making sure I don’t mess up my soon-to-arrive child.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt. Do you have a significant other? Children? Pets? What about your hobbies? What are your goals for the future? 
I’m married to a wonderful woman named Cigdem (Chee-dem) from Turkey. We’ve been together for 7 years, married for 5, and expecting our first child in July. Currently, we share our home with two dogs: a Jack Russell mix named Link and a Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix named Caesar. We call them our practice kids.

As for hobbies, I’m an avid reader. My preference is to alternate between fiction(usually fantasy) and non-fiction(biographies, science, and communications) books on a 2-1 ratio. This seems to help me from getting too bored with any particular genre. My wife and I also enjoy cooking together, hiking, browsing stores for clearance items, and taking our dogs to the dog park. Crying that Voltron is now finished might become my next hobby.

Cigdem has always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and we’re finally in a position for her to do this. My goals are to make sure she and our children have everything needed for a safe and happy life.

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you? (Until now, of course!) 
I’ve lived in two foreign countries, Turkey and Afghanistan.

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.

Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Liping Du

Nick Shell
December 26, 2018

This week we are excited to feature one of our faculty members, Liping Du, PhD, who is an Assistant in Biostatistics and supports the Center for Quantitative Sciences.  Read on to learn more about her work here at Vanderbilt and her interests outside of our group:

What is the focus of your research and where have your findings been published?   
I have worked in several areas of research. When I was a student working with Dr. Robert Tanner in the Chemical Engineering Department of Vanderbilt, we published 11 papers about protein purification using foam fractionation in applied biochemical and biotechnology journals, and in addition we published a book chapter. After graduation, as a biomedical researcher, I investigated the roles of Cytochrome P450 and related lipids in skin biology in Dr. Diane Keeney’s lab and we published 8 related papers in biochemistry, toxicology and pharmacology journals. Then I worked with Dr. Anthony Forster in the field of synthetic biology. We had 3 publications together, and last year a paper based on my work on in vitro synthesis of E. coli translation factor module of a minimal genome was published and 4 plasmids named after my name are in the Genbank now. In the past five years, as a biostatistician, I have collaborated with many investigators and had about 26 collaborative publications in different fields. I also had a statistical method paper in evaluating bioequivalence trials data using the evidential likelihood approach with my advisor Dr. Leena Choi in the Biostatistics Department.  

What was your inspiration to pursue a career in statistics? 
The hands on experience that I had during my graduate studies in chemical engineering making a novel plasma reactor and a photoelectric device for measuring bubble size distribution in a foam fractionation column was very fulfilling. But I found that I was most interested in the quantitative part-- mathematically modeling the chemical reaction or physical separation process based on theory and confirming the results with the measured data was exciting. I do miss this part of investigating that comes with being in a wet biomedical research lab.  Fortunately, the Vanderbilt Biostatistics graduate program was started in 2011 and I joined with one of the earliest cohorts of 8 students. The reputation of Dr. Shyr’s group led me to pursue a position in this group.  I am so lucky to be able to work on several interesting projects in  the CQS over the past several years. 

As a statistician, I love this quote:  

“…the statistician must be instinctively and primary a logician and a scientist in the broader sense and only secondarily a user of the specialized statistical techniques…” 

What makes Vanderbilt special in your experiences of collaborating with others? 
At Vanderbilt, as a statistician, you may collaborate with investigators in different fields. It is so much fun working on many different projects and it is very rewarding. As I learned more about the statistical methods in Frequentist, Bayesian, and Likelihoodist, I often wonder what role statistics (probabilistic relationship) plays in science and in life. Is it providing evidence from the data, and/or guiding our belief, and/or guiding our action using the data? Also, should I consider more the causal relationship (e.g. a DAG and causal model) more in practice than just describing associations with a probabilistic model?  These are interesting questions and will keep me pondering. 

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt. Do you have a significant other? Children?  What about your hobbies? 
I am a cook at home; I truly love cooking!  I learned from my mom that as a mother I need to feed my family with healthy food and ensure that they have a good appetite at every meal. I have 3 lovely children and they are the joy of my life.  As for hobbies, both my husband and I enjoy exercise and outdoor activities.  When we have chance, we take the kids out playing sports or out to enjoy nature. I wish I could go hiking more often. I hope we will continue to live a healthy and productive life.   

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you? (Until now, of course!)
I have lived around Nashville for over 21 years and it is the place where I have stayed the longest in my life. It is truly becoming my home and I really love this city!  

Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Yu Wang

Nick Shell
November 26, 2018

This week we are excited to feature one of our postdoctoral fellows from the Center for Quantitative Sciences within the Department of Biostatistics.  Dr. Yu Wang has had experience in both bioinformatics and biostatistics and is involved in some fascinating research.  Read on to learn more...

Tell us about your current research focus. 
By developing and adopting relevant bioinformatical and biostatistical methods on NGS and clinical data, my work is mainly focused on parsing genetic, transcriptomic, and immunogenetic features associated with response to anti-PD-1 and/or anti-CTLA-4 immunotherapy in patients with malignancies, and developing biomarkers by combining different features to help discriminate patients for choosing more reasonable therapy strategy.  

It’s a very challenging and hot topic with significant breakthrough in cancer therapy. I feel excited and lucky to be involved. I set up pipelines for immunogenetic signature evaluation, immune cell composition and neoantigen prediction by integrating WES, RNAseq and SWATH-MS proteomical data. By cooperating with our collaborators, we combine multidimensional data from the somatic mutation and expression profiles, to immunogenetic features in TILs, to depict the key players associated with the response to immune checkpoint blockade therapy and clinical outcomes. 

​What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt? 
Even though I am working with a lot of biological and clinical data daily, I am still a beginner in biostatistics. I really appreciate the environment provided by our department. I can learn a lot of statistics from our colleagues, courses, workshops, etc. I realize that not only the concepts and methods but also the way of thinking in biostatistics is critical for data science. I cherish the opportunities of being surrounded by the experts, and I hope I can add the cannon into my armory.

Tell us about your publications and research findings.
My most recent first author manuscript was sent out for reviewing and in that manuscript we show that rare mutations in antigen processing machinery are associated with high mutational burden and an enhancement of predicted neoantigens, providing insights into the mechanisms of high mutation burden in some patients.  I had previously published about 20 papers in plant science before I joined VUMC. After I transferred to the biomedical research field, I participated as a co-author in several publications in biomedical/clinical journals, like Nature Genetics, NPJ Breast Cancer, JCI Insight, bioRXiv etc.  

What makes Vanderbilt special in your experiences of collaborating with others? 
It’s actually my favorite part about working in CQS/Biostatistics/VUMC. With Dr. Xu's help, I am able to be focused on a specific and challenging topic with many active collaborators who work in cancer cell biology, cancer immunology and in the clinic at VUMC. They are all immunotherapeutic experts and can provide valuable data and suggestions. I can always count on help from my colleagues in many ways and know who to turn to for help with questions I have pertaining to NGS data analysis, cloud computing, REDCap and many other areas.  The atmosphere of collaborating is critical for personal development as a researcher in interdisciplinary fields, like bioinformatics, and for trying to make efforts to study complex diseases. 

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt. Do you have a significant other? Children? Pets? What about your hobbies? What are your goals for the future? 
Music, cuisine and basketball feed my body and soul. The Spurs with Tim Duncan is my favorite team. I have been married to my wife for eight years. She was my classmate in college and is currently pursuing a MS’s degree in Biostatistics. We really hope to add new members to our home soon; I had a German shepherd when I was in high school and we plan to adopt a puppy next year.  

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you? (Until now, of course!) 
Well, this is a good opportunity to explain how to pronounce my first name “Yu”. It’s totally fine for me if you say it as ‘/ju:/’, like in “Thank you”.  But if you want to know something about Chinese language or just for fun, here are tips. Some of you may know that there are many Chinese characters. Each character has a sound (some have multiple). And for each sound, there are four tones. The “u” here is a vowel which is not exist in English (that is why it’s difficult for native English speakers  and it is actually written as “ü”).  Here is a link of explaining how to pronounce it. Here is an example on YouTube.  My name is the fourth tones. Try it! 


Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Ahra Kim

Nick Shell
November 19, 2018

This week's Spotlight features one of our newer staff biostatisticians, Ahra Kim.  Learn how this Southern California native ventured East to Nashville for a great opportunity in research and is now learning to brave the winters, all while providing statistical support to her collaborators here at Vanderbilt.

Tell us about the research you are involved in.
I am involved with three collaborations here at Vanderbilt. Half of my time is spent working on projects with the Caribbean, Central and South America network (CCASAnet) for HIV epidemiology. It consists of HIV clinical sites from seven countries in Latin America, and is also a member of a larger consortium, International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA). In one study, we are comparing outcomes such as mortality, retention in care, and timing of antiretroviral therapy initiation in HIV infected adults with and without tuberculosis. We have recently submitted several abstracts to a conference and are currently working on additional analyses for manuscripts.

My two other collaborations are with the Department of Psychiatry and Center for Biomedical Ethics. For one project in Psychiatry, we are interested in assessing how catatonia and delirium affect survival in critically-ill patients. For Biomedical Ethics, we have been trying to better understand characteristics of patients needing ethical consults for controversial topics like organ donation or treatment decision making, as well as practice patterns of clinicians when it comes to these issues. I am grateful to be working on such a wide range of interesting projects.

What was your draw to statistics and/or Vanderbilt? 
I was drawn to statistics in a non-traditional way since I have a social science background. I enjoyed doing research, but many of my classes as an undergraduate involved secondary research and I wanted to do something more hands-on. I was fascinated when I took a course in biostatistics, which was my first exposure to learning R programming. This encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree in biostatistics. Joining the Department at Vanderbilt was an amazing opportunity for me as a new graduate, so I relocated from California.

What lessons have you learned from being a biostatistician?
Though I haven’t been a biostatistician for very long now, I’ve learned that being organized and transparent is key. Sometimes projects pause and resume months or even years later, so it’s helpful to clearly document everything and practice reproducibility to avoid confusion and save time in the long run.

What makes Vanderbilt special in your experiences of collaborating with others?
The collaboration opportunities here have been wonderful. Everybody has been very kind and respectful, and view statisticians as valuable team members. I also appreciate the diverse resources and how there are so many experts in various fields that you can learn from, especially if you encounter a difficult problem in an area you may not be familiar with.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt. Do you have a significant other? What about your hobbies?
I have been engaged to my fiancé for almost a year now and will be getting married next spring. We both moved here from California. Outside of work, I enjoy a variety of hobbies including hiking, playing tennis, and practicing yoga. I also like to see live music performances, visit cool galleries or exhibits, and occasionally attend sporting events.

Finally, what is something about you that most people at Vanderbilt still don't know about you?
Prior to moving to Nashville, I lived in an inland region of Southern California (Inland Empire) where summer temperatures can reach highs of 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters are usually mild with highs in the 60s. Coming to Nashville, I was shocked to see temperatures drop to single digits last winter. Though I’ve been here for a year and half now, I still haven’t acclimated fully to the cold!