Alumni Profile: Joseph Rigdon, PhD
Statistician, Quantitative Sciences Unit, Stanford University School of Medicine
Describe your current position
I collaborate with doctors and scientists in the Stanford med school on research studies. I currently work with investigators in prevention, neonatology, and nutrition. I work on all phases of the research process, from grant preparation and submission, to data collection and quality control, and ultimately to data analysis and publication of results. I also have the opportunity to write software and work on methodology development through these collaborations.
List your career highlights
Three things come to mind. First, working with Michael Hudgens [Biostatistics Professor] at UNC was amazing. I have learned so much from him that it would be hard to put into words in this setting. It was a career highlight having our research featured in Statistics in Medicine and seeing the positive reception in the research community. We are still addressing a response letter.
Second, being the lead statistician on a large randomized weight loss trial (low-carb vs. low-fat diets with a genetic match vs. mis-match component) in the Stanford med school has been quite challenging and fulfilling. Finally, working with Sanjay Basu at Stanford has been an incredible experience. In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of the US food stamp program, Sanjay and I are building an R package for instrumental variable analysis. This is ongoing work and I’m very excited to be a part of it!
Why did you choose UNC?
I was lucky to be born into a good family that loved me and supported me, but I was also lucky to be born into a state and a town that supported top quality public education. I was born in UNC hospital and I grew up a Tar Heel. When I learned UNC had a top Biostatistics program, it was a no-brainer for me to choose UNC, both career-wise and financially. I am very thankful I had the opportunity to attend UNC (for over a decade!). In addition to the great academic and personal experiences I had at UNC, it doesn’t hurt that we won two national titles in basketball (’05 and ’09) [as of August 2016] – GO HEELS!
What are your words of wisdom for current students in the Biostatistics program?
1. Stay humble and don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions.
2. Go to office hours and listen to what the faculty are saying. Your journey is just beginning and every bit of wisdom they provide will help!
3. Take hand written notes.
4. Try to work on problem sets alone until you can’t find the answer and then reach out for help. There are no shortcuts to learning difficult material.
5. Don’t overwork and plan ahead. Schedule your time for the week in realistic blocks and execute. Make sure to include ample time for fun – outdoor activities, meals with friends, etc.
Discuss your relationship with faculty and/or staff during or after the program.
My 10.5 years at UNC were the best. I spent eight and a half of those in the Biostatistics department – two as a BSPH student, two as a MS student, and four and a half as a PhD student. I gained invaluable training from my coursework. From talking to many colleagues, I’ve learned that UNC’s Biostatistics PhD coursework is second to none in scope and rigor. In addition, I had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant and a research assistant. Both of these opportunities helped round out my academic experience and qualifications for later job opportunities. I wouldn’t trade my experience at UNC for anything!
What has attending school at the Gillings School helped you achieve?
As I mentioned above, the [Gillings School] laid the foundation for any future professional success I will be lucky enough to enjoy. Without the training and mentorship from [Gillings School] faculty and staff, who knows where I would be!