Welcome to the BiosBeat communication tool for the Department of Biostatistics at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health! Here you will find a collection of the latest department news, special features, dates to save, and much more. So, read on, enjoy, and be sure to regularly check back for updates!
Message from our Biostatistics Leadership – COVID19
We hope you are staying safe and healthy during this time. We encourage you to continue taking all the preventative measures recommended by UNC and the CDC.
Please visit the School of Public Health’s official Coronavirus Information Portal for the most recent information and updates: https://sph.unc.edu/global-health/2019-coronavirus-info-portal/
HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS ISSUE:
- LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CSCC
- WHERE TO FIND INTERVIEW AND CAREER HELP
- MEET A BSPH STUDENT BLENDING BIOS AND ART
- PROFESSOR LAVANGE NOMINATED AS DEPARTMENT CHAIR
- BIOS CELEBRATES SPRING 2020 AWARDS DAY
BEYOND CHAPEL HILL
RESEARCH THRIVES AT THE CSCC
The Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center, often called the CSCC, is a large organization that is within the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Biostatistics Department. The CSCC’s history can be traced back to the 1971 National Institutes of Health award of the Lipid Research Clinics Program (LRC) coordinating center to the Biostatistics Department. After many successful years, the LRC Coordinating Center changed its name to reflect the new study coordinating centers that were added in 1984.
In its almost 50 years, the CSCC has coordinated activities for over 40 large, multi-site clinical trials and epidemiology studies involving hundreds of clinical or field centers and hundreds of thousands of research subjects, and produced well over 1,000 research publications. The CSCC consists of approximately 100 faculty, staff, and students from the departments of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Nutrition, Medicine and Social Medicine, and collaborates with co-investigators in numerous other departments, centers, and schools across the UNC campus.
Many biostatistics students find their first hands-on research opportunity with the CSCC. Multiple roles become available during the school year for both undergraduate and graduate students, allowing them to gain valuable field experience directly related to biostatistics.
The CSCC has been a pioneer in clinical data management, implementing remote data entry on a national project in 1986 (the first NIH coordinating center to do so), followed by a web-based data management system in 2001. In 2010, the CSCC introduced its next generation data management system, CDART (Carolina Data Acquisition & Reporting Technology). It was created with help from the TraCS Institute, and was jointly funded by the CSCC and the UNC School of Medicine CTSA grant. CDART allows investigators anywhere real-time reporting, tracking, editing, and querying of data. Currently, all of the Center’s studies are supported on the CDART system.
CSCC projects span the clinical areas of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, chronic lung disease, nutrition and obesity, periodontal disease, kidney disease, mental health and child health. The longest running active CSCC project is the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study, begun in 1986 with continuing follow-up of a cohort of over 15,000 individuals. Another hallmark project is the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL), a prospective epidemiological study of 16,000 Hispanics living in the U.S. It is designed to evaluate the relationship between baseline risk factors such as acculturation, environmental exposures, diet, and exercise with health outcomes that include both cardiovascular and pulmonary endpoints for this fast-growing minority population.
Currently, the CSCC is led by Professor Lisa LaVange, who also lead the center from 2005-2011. “At the FDA, I was frequently reminded of the many advances in public health that were made possible by great coordinating centers, such as ours”, LaVange says. “The CSCC has an excellent and unsurpassed reputation of study coordination and innovation, and I am proud to be its Director.”
To learn more about the CSCC and find the current research project websites, visit the CSCC webpage.
SPOTLIGHT ON FACULTY
Name: Kathy Roggenkamp
Position: Instructor for the department and manager of the statistical computing group at the Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center (CSCC).
Time at the Gillings School: 1978-1982, 2001-present
What I do (and why I love it): At the CSCC I manage a group of about 10 statistical computing programmers who use SAS (mostly) to handle data management, reporting, and analysis needs of the CSCC’s many studies. For investigators, statisticians, students, and others at the CSCC who need to use SAS, I work with our IT group to help make sure that our SAS computing environment works well enough for everyone. I enjoy my role as a problem solver in an organization that is small enough that you can know almost everyone, and I love hiring and supporting a wonderful staff of extremely competent SAS programmers and nice people, many of whom were once students that I taught in BIOS 511 or BIOS 669.
In my instructor role, each spring I teach BIOS 669, Working with Data in a Public Health Research Setting. BIOS 669 is a very practical elective in which students learn by doing, and I love seeing students develop new skills such as using SQL, reshaping data, and web scraping. It is pure joy to get to spend time with dedicated Gillings students.
First job or Internship I had was: After my freshman and sophomore years of college I worked summers at the Blue Ridge Assembly YMCA camp near Black Mountain, NC. After my junior year I worked as a social science intern at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. While I was a senior here at UNC I got a part-time job as a keypunch operator at the Lipid Research Clinics Program, which was a precursor to the CSCC. After college graduation and a little bit of graduate school I returned to Lipids, where I was hired as a junior SAS programmer.
GET TO KNOW BIOS
BIOS BSPH’R BLENDS ANALYTICS AND ART
One of the extraordinary students that was honored with a Phi Beta Kappa induction this past spring was Nishma Vias. Nishma is a current undergraduate pursuing a BSPH in Biostatistics, with plans to graduate in Spring 2021.
“Reflecting upon my undergraduate experience, the BSPH Biostatistics program has been the single most impactful factor shaping the way I approach my lifelong goal of a career in clinical health care. It is difficult for me to believe that just four years ago, I had never even heard of biostatistics. My path in this field began towards the end of high school, where I had the opportunity to work with a graduate student on a project related to the malaria vector”, Nishma shares.
“Given that I was most drawn to the analytical aspects of the research process, a close friend of mine and recent graduate of the BSPH program introduced me to biostatistics. I was immediately hooked. I found the intersection of my interests in data, problem solving, and biomedical sciences within this field. Over the past few years, the applications presented in my biostatistics courses along with the community-based systems approach of the greater public health core have catalyzed a number of important conversations that will help me become a more informed and conscientious health care provider.”
Nishma is involved in several research activities around campus, opportunities she attributes to her biostatistics background. Since February of 2019, she has served as an undergraduate research assistant in the Marchesan Lab at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry. Most recently, Nishma also became an undergraduate research assistant at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
“Studying biostatistics has additionally opened further doors to me in research. I have been working with the Marchesan group in the Adams School of Dentistry for the past year and a half to study models of periodontal disease and devise methods for illustrating bone loss data. This past summer, I joined a team back here at Gillings that is studying SARS-CoV-2 antibody seroprevalence alongside risk perception and compliance behaviors. It is not lost on me how timely and crucial this work is. The community I have met through biostatistics has simply been incredible, and I am grateful to be learning from such brilliant and supportive mentors each and every day.”
Nishma enjoys being involved in the Carolina community through her extracurricular activities. She has been a member of the American Student Dental Association since 2018, and recently became the Vice President of the organization. She also serves as Social Chair of Global Brigades, a volunteer organization whose mission is to empower communities to meet their health and economic goals.
Outside of academics, Nishma holds interests in dance, photography, and graphic design. She is a member of the Tar Heel Raas Dance Team the Indian dance organization at UNC-Chapel Hill,. In addition, she serves as design chair of two UNC dance competitions, Aaj Ka Dhamaka and Dola Re Dandiya
“These activities have enriched my experience at Carolina by bringing me closer to the local community and providing various outlets for creative expression. I love the adrenaline rush that comes with performing on stage, but beyond that, my desire to create is almost instinctual. I have enjoyed exploring mediums including photography, paint, ink, and digital graphics, each time challenging myself to take on different perspectives or frame the subject in a new way.”
Nishma finds a connection between her passion for visual art and her work in analytics as it has helped to train her to find unique perspectives in order to solve complex problems. “It is important to consider biostatisticians’ roles in effectively communicating and presenting information, acting as a liaison between the analytical community and others who rely on our work. Interestingly enough, I have found visual art playing into this capacity, particularly in my projects with the Marchesan group. I think that flexing our creative muscles every now and then can certainly translate to inspired solutions for complex problems we may face in our field.”
Following graduation, Nishma plans to attend dental school. However, her foundation in biostatistics and public health remain an important aspect of her career growth. She shares, “I am very happy with how the past four years have played out, but the road does not end here. I look forward to a lifetime of learning after graduation: attending dental school, staying involved in research and community dentistry programs, continuing to explore various artistic mediums and their connections to other disciplines. Although I will be stepping away from Gillings for the foreseeable future, I will certainly be carrying and expanding upon my foundation in biostatistics through it all.”
PROFESSOR LISA LAVANGE NOMINATED TO BE DEPARTMENT CHAIR
Professor Lisa LaVange, PhD has been nominated by the Gillings School’s Dean Barbara K. Rimer to serve as the next Department of Biostatistics Chair. The appointment is expected to be finalized in February 2021.
Professor LaVange is extremely qualified and well-suited for the position. She received her undergraduate degree in mathematics from UNC-Chapel Hill, her master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Massachusetts, and her doctoral degree in biostatistics from the Gillings School. She brings to the chair role experience in both the public and private sectors – university, non-profit consulting, pharmaceutical, contract research organization, and government. She has held leadership roles at RTI International, Quintiles, Inspire Pharmaceuticals, and mostly recently, at the FDA. She was a professor of biostatistics and director of the Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center (CSCC) at Gillings from 2005 to 2011 and rejoined the department in 2018 as professor, associate chair, and director of the CSCC. Additionally, Professor LaVange is currently playing a critical leadership role in U.S. efforts to develop effective treatments for COVID-19 as a member of the Accelerating Covid-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) Therapeutics Clinical Committee and co-chair of the ACTIV Master Protocol Subcommittee, in addition to serving as lead statistician on the ACTIV-1 clinical trial of immune modulators.
Gillings School Dean Barara K. Rimer shared the news of Professor LaVange’s nomination on November 24 in an email to the Biostatistics community. She writes, “appointing a new chair is not about fixing problems but positioning the department for success in the decades to come. This is a challenging time, and Lisa LaVange has the vision, leadership, management skills and experience to lead Biostatistics with vision and effectiveness. She is committed to continued excellence in research, education, and practice and enhancing the department’s inclusive excellence. I am confident that Lisa will be a superb chair.”
HOW BIOS PREPARES STUDENTS FOR CAREER SUCCESS
Finding an internship or full-time job can seem daunting, but the Gillings School and the Department of Biostatistics provide several channels for its students and recent grads to find and best prepare for internships and full-time opportunities.
Gillings School Career Services, whose homepage can be found here, is the best point of contact for any questions you may have about your job hunt. Students can schedule an appointment with an advisor to have their resume reviewed, receive advice on how to best approach an application, and even have the opportunity to participate in mock interviews so as to be prepared for the real thing.
Career Services also holds several events throughout the semester to provide guidance to students and alumni. Some of their previous seminars have included topics such as “Building Your Digital Brand”, “Navigating a Career Change”, and “Creating a Resume That Stands Out During a Recession”.
A digital platform that can be helpful in searching for job and internship opportunities is Handshake. Similar in look and feel to LinkedIn, Handshake allows companies to post opportunities specifically targeted at UNC students. When students apply for the position, they are applying with UNC credentials, giving them a leg up in the application process. Handshake can also be useful to alert students to recruiting events and opportunities to network with employers. These connections can be valuable in helping students find employment down the road.
The Department of Biostatistics, too, has several mediums with which opportunities for students are announced. Bios Jobs is a biweekly newsletter consisting of open positions and professional events for students to attend. Open Positions are sent to the department from alumni and industry leaders wanting candidates specifically from UNC’s Department of Biostatistics. These opportunities are sent out in a newsletter every other week to students via email.
NAIL YOUR NEXT INTERVIEW
Interviewing can be nerve racking for anyone, and getting anxious before an interview is not uncommon behavior. The best way to ease your nerves beforehand is to prepare for the interview by practicing answers to common questions and setting up your environment for success.
To find some of the common questions interviewers will ask, see this list, compiled by University Career Services. You can also search for more questions relating to your specific type of interview and find innovative ways to answer them by using Big Interview, a service provided by UNC for all students. It is also important to consider how the remote nature of most of today’s interviews will impact your preparation methods. University Career Services has many tips and tricks, found here, for mastering virtual and phone interviews. For more resources on how to nail your next interview, view University Career Service’s interview hub.
BIOS CELEBRATES STUDENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS WITH AWARDS DAY
The Department of Biostatistics celebrated students virtually on November 5 during the 2020 Bios Awards Day. Initially scheduled for the spring semester, this awards ceremony was delayed due to COVID-19. While the ceremony was unable to take place in person, the Department hosted a wonderful virtual ceremony to celebrate our student’s accomplishments from the past academic year. The program highlighted the Phi Beta Kappa inductees, the Department Scholarship recipients, Delta Omega inductees and recipients, as well as Department awards.
Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honorary society, inducted 12 Bios undergraduate students over the past three semesters. In Fall of 2019, Don Luke Fejfar, Benjamin Jaeman Lee, Alicia Peterson, and Eileen Jueming Yang were inducted. In Spring of 2020, Nishma Pinakin Vias, Amy Jiang Yu, and Gabrielle Maxine Zuckerman were inducted. This fall, Jessica Caroline Aldous, Madeline Lee Chandler, Rhea Manish Jaisinghani, Lucia Wang, and Yingyue Zhan were also inducted.
Each year the department provides scholarships to outstanding students in the Department of Biostatistics. This year the department administered the Public Health Scholarship to Yunhan Wun.
Delta Omega, the honorary society in public health, inducted four Bios students this past year. These students were selected based on outstanding academic performance in their biostatistics coursework, following a careful review of their transcripts. The inductees were Jin Wang, Owen Leete, Bonnie Shook-Sa, and Elaine Kearney. These students have earned a life-long membership to the honor society. In addition, Delta Omega provides other awards for students demonstrating academic excellence. Pedro Baldoni was nominated for scholarly research, Daniel Malawasky was recognized for undergraduate academic excellence, Linran Zhou was nominated for the service award, Fei Zou was nominated for the faculty member award, and Annie Green Howard was nominated for the alumni award.
The Department of Biostatistics awards their own honors each year as well. Bradley Saul, DrPH, 2017, Lead Statistician, NoviSci, was awarded the Larry Kupper Dissertation Publication Award for his paper titled “Applications of and Tools for Casual Inference”, which was published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. Fan Zhou, PhD, 2012, was awarded the Barry H. Margolin Award for Excellence in Doctoral Research.
The department also honors one outstanding alumni each year with the James E. Grizzle Distinguished Alumni Award. The 2020 recipient was Yingqi Zhao, PhD, 2012, who is currently an Associate Professor in the Public Health Science Division at Fred Hutchinson Research Center.
Congratulations to all recipients!
IMPORTANT STUDENT DATE REMINDERS
- January 12 – Bios BSPH application deadline
- January 19 – Spring 2021 classes begin
- February 26 – Minority Health Conference
If you have news or a story idea you feel would fit BiosBeat, please submit them to Jeff Oberhaus.
PLEASE NOTE: Given the recent events regarding COVID-19, the annual BiosRhythms is on hold. Issue 31 will not be sent until further notice