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!