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:

-New Dynamic of Remote Learning
-Transition to Remote Teaching
-Gillings Participates in Virtual ENAR Spring 2020 Meeting
-Chapel Hill is in the Fight Against COVID-19
-Learn More About the Biostatistics Core of CFAR
-The Bernard Greenberg Legacy in our Students and our Faculty

Important Dates


Liz’s Tips & Tricks for Thriving Now – BSPH Junior Liz Zarzar Embraces New Dynamic of Remote Learning

Liz Zarzar is a junior pursuing a BSPH in Biostatistics

Like many of my fellow classmates, it wasn’t long ago that I was enjoying a fun and relaxing break from school. My friends and I had taken a trip to Charleston, where we spent days relaxing on the beach, walking around town, and eating good southern food at local restaurants. We had no idea that very soon all of this simple normality would be interrupted. Once we heard the news that other universities had extended their spring break and cancelled all in-person classes for the remainder of the semester, we realized UNC was likely to do the same. In the moment after receiving the news, we were in vacation-mode and happy with the announcement, not realizing how quickly the situation would change and how much it would alter our daily lives. In our minds we would have another week of vacation, attend school remotely for a bit, and after a few weeks continue college as normal, spending time with our friends and hanging out on Franklin Street.

Now, we all know and realize the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not a distant issue as it had once seemed. It still hasn’t really hit me that I won’t be returning to school as normal to see my friends and classmates, hitting local coffee shops to study, laying out on the quad on sunny days, or frantically trying to find a table in Davis once finals week comes around.

As I’m sure most of you are, I am still adjusting to social-distancing, as well as learning and working remotely. Similar to a lot of Gillings School students, I enjoy keeping my schedule busy and always having somewhere to be. I also like to frequently change up my study space and do work in different locations. With the abundance of libraries at UNC and a wide array of coffee shops in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, this was easy. Due to the discontinuation of face-to-face instruction and closings of businesses and libraries for the remainder of the semester, we are all adjusting. Since we are all in the same boat, I’d like to share some of the ways I am coping with the transition to remote instruction.

1. Keep a Normal Routine

While this situation is anything but normal, it doesn’t mean we have to stop trying to have some sort of a routine. It’s weird waking up and realizing I don’t really have anywhere I need to be. As someone who loves to sleep in, this realization makes it easy to waste the day away.

However, I’m continuing to set my alarm and wake up as I always would, get dressed (though I’ll admit it’s tempting to stay in my PJs), make a cup of coffee, and continue as normal of a routine as possible. This helps to psychologically prepare me to begin my work. Most of my teachers are holding online lectures during their normal class time, which definitely aids in facilitating the maintenance of a normal routine. Even if a few classes don’t do this, I still plan to work on each class at its designated lecture time.

2. Create a Functional Work Space at Home

I typically get out of my room to study, as I am much more productive at the library or in other spaces. My desk tends to be a space where clutter and random things seem to end up, making it harder to focus and productively use that space. However, I have adjusted my desk space to be comfortable and functional when working from home.

For me, this involved decluttering my desk, ensuring I had good lighting and a quiet environment, and using a whiteboard to keep track of my to-do list and short-term goals for each day. When I am done with work for the day, I avoid leaving my work spread out everywhere and I try to straighten it up so it isn’t overwhelming to return to the next day.

Everyone’s ideal work space may be different, but changing it up is always a good idea. When I lose focus in this space I take a break or transition to the dining room table or picnic table on my front porch.

3. Find Accountability Buddies

Personally, I am always more productive when I have accountability buddies, whether this means going to the library with friends or even just surrounding myself with people who are also studying. I didn’t really realize it until now, but college has gotten me used to being around people all the time. Remote instruction makes this harder, but I still plan to work on homework or study with classmates by utilizing resources like Google Docs to make study guides or Facetime and Google Hangouts for group study sessions.

4. Go Outside

Just because the university is closed and lots of businesses are closing, it doesn’t mean we have to stay locked inside! Especially now that it is spring, I plan to take advantage of the nice weather. Whether this means going for a walk/run or studying outside on my picnic table, I hope to incorporate going outside and getting some fresh air into my daily routine whenever possible.

5. Keep Busy (or just relax!)

Staying home all the time feels weird because under normal circumstances I am usually out doing something. While I’ve talked about my plan for adjusting to remote instruction, what I find most challenging is figuring out what to do in my free time when I need a study break.

Spending time outdoors is a good option, but other than that I plan to take advantage of having fewer obligations and more free time to do things I wouldn’t normally do. Of course I’ll probably be lazy and binge watch some Netflix, but I’m finally tackling my new year’s resolution to read more, as well as just having ordered a puzzle (I can’t remember the last time I did a puzzle). While this situation is definitely frustrating at times, I’ve realized this is a good time to tackle a creative project, adopt a new skill or hobby, or just simply take advantage of some time to relax and stay in.

Remain Involved in the Gillings School Community Remotely

Although social distancing remains the best practice to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, that doesn’t mean you can’t remain involved in the Gillings school community. Several events scheduled to take place in March and April have now been moved to a virtual format.

The weekly Biostatistics seminars have been moved online, but are still held from 3:30 to 4:30 PM on Thursday afternoons. The School will also be holding a free mindfulness seminar on April 4, from 9:30-10:30 AM. This one-hour workshop is a great opportunity to learn methods to ease stress, improve your ability to meet life’s challenges, and take time for yourself to connect with others. This is especially important in times of social distancing, as we are spending increased amounts of time alone. You can register for free here: https://tinyurl.com/sstpkbh

In addition to attending these great events put on by the School, consider the smaller ways you can feel connected with your Gillings community remotely. One tip is to video call with classmates to work on assignments together and discuss course concepts. This can help you to feel as though you are still interacting with your peers and obtaining new perspectives on course content. Another tip is to reach out to those you have become accustomed to seeing. Whether it be attending your professor’s virtual office hours or checking in with a mentor, try to take time to connect with the people you would normally visit throughout your day. This can help restore some balance to your daily routine.

How are you coping with social distancing? Connect with us on social media and tweet us at @uncbiostat with the ways you are staying involved with the Gillings community during this time of separation.


Professors Transition to Remote Teaching

The precautions taken by UNC to stop the spread of coronavirus has allowed for students and faculty alike to explore new learning environments. Without the ability to teach in-person, professors are navigating the difficulties of deciding the best way to teach without being in the same place as students.

Professor Michael Hudgens’ Home Workspace

The Gillings School of Global Public Health’s classroom teaching professors have all moved to a remote teaching format, using video technologies to host virtual class meetings and office hours. The University has had crash courses to bring the faculty on board to this new reality. Instructors have had to assess what changes to class syllabi and assignment lists might be required, as well as determine how to proceed with teaching without face-to-face interaction. UNC faculty training sessions should help the transition to teaching remotely.

One of the many professors navigating this new paradigm is Biostatics Professor Michael Hudgens, who is teaching Bios 680: Introductory Survivorship Analysis this semester. He has found this transition challenging, saying that “changing horses midstream is never easy, but the additional week of spring break along with tremendous support provided by the Department, School, and University have helped facilitate the switch to on-line teaching.”

With 47 students enrolled in Bios 680, most of the class have moved back to their permanent addresses and now reside in varying time zones. Given this new dynamic, Hudgens recognizes the difficulty for all members of his class to be present online at their usual meeting time. He mentions that some students are now in China, where they are 12 hours ahead of Chapel Hill. It is with challenges like these that technologies have become incredibly helpful. While the professor may continue to broadcast his lectures at his usual time, they are recorded on a technology platform, allowing students to watch them anytime and anywhere. This has allowed Hudgens to feel as though he is still able to connect with his students despite the many miles between them.

Another important consideration in this transition is how the grading of assignments and exams will proceed. Traditionally, Bios 680 had two graders with whom the professor would collaborate with in-person to grade homework and tests. Hudgens now has to navigate organizing the grading of all remaining work for the semester in an online format, along with his two graders. This has called for changes in assignment submission format, using online methods that make organizing the grading process much easier.

Professors have expressed gratitude towards the University and the Gillings School for all the information and support they have provided to help faculty embrace remote learning. “UNC and Gillings leadership have done an outstanding job providing instructional resources and guidance during this challenging time” notes Hudgens. Although the remainder of the Spring semester is not as students or faculty imagined it would be, their ability to adapt to the given situation, truly shows the versatility of the Gillings School of Global Public Health and its community.

Gillings Participates in Virtual ENAR Spring 2020 Meeting

Busola Sanusi presented virtually at ENAR

The International Biometrics Society (IBS) holds its annual meeting of the Eastern North American Region (ENAR) in late March of every year. The conference covers a wide range of topics that are of interest to both researchers and practitioners. These topics include data science, genomics clinical trials, neuroimaging, biomarkers, health policy, and much more. Faculty and students from the Department of Biostatistics regularly participate in seminars, tutorials, and roundtables and are invited to give talks and poster presentations. This year to mark our department’s 70th anniversary we were especially excited about our sponsorship of the meeting.

ENAR was set to take place in Nashville, Tennessee on March 21-25. With the growth of the COVID-19 outbreak rising throughout the United States, the Spring 2020 meeting was instead moved to a virtual format. Despite the change in the conference’s structure, many Gillings School faculty and students still participated in the meeting.

Busola Sanusi, a PhD candidate in Biostatistics, is one of our students that presented her work at the meeting. “I had a great experience presenting my work virtually during the ENAR conference”, Sanusi said. She mentions that the conference being moved to a remote platform did not hinder her preparation, saying her planning for the virtual talk was similar to how she would plan for a face-to-face presentation. There were also many bright sides to a digital conference, like the introduction of a Q&A tool, which Sanusi says made the session very interactive and allowed her to elaborate more on her topic.

Hannan Yang presenting at ENAR

The virtual meeting also proved to be helpful for first-time ENAR presenters, like Hannan Yang, a PhD candidate in Biostatistics. “It was my first time attending such a popular conference, so a virtual meeting helped to ease the pressure of presenting publicly to a certain extent. Personally, it served as a good transition for me in the process of learning presentation skills for conferences. Since I have already had multiple meetings with my advisor over video calls, it did not take me long to shift to the mindset for preparing the presentation on a virtual meeting. In addition, I presented the same work in the regular group meeting last semester, which was a useful rehearsal for the ENAR meeting”, Yang said.

Yang found the main challenge in preparing for his remote presentation to be condensing his 50-minute talk into a shorter 15-minute one. This required re-organizing his slides, as well as a lot of practice focusing on the main idea of the research project. Despite the move to virtual, Yang says he still got a lot out of the conference, mentioning that “the talks from the other speakers were interesting as well. Their research might not be going in the same direction as mine, but I had more exposure to other’s ideas by attending the conference, which might be more clear and useful than reading the papers on our own. “


Joining the Fight Against COVID-19 Are Professors Lin and Zeng

Around the world, several clinical trials are being conducted to find treatments for COVID-19. In particular, five clinical trials are currently evaluating the efficacy and safety of remdesivir, which was identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the most promising agent to treat COVID-19. The selection of appropriate endpoints is critical to the success of these trials, but the endpoints adopted in the current trials do not capture the entire clinical experience of a patient. Indeed, very different endpoints were adopted by each of the five trials, even for patients with the same severity of the disease. Biostatistics Professors Danyu Lin and Donglin Zeng proposed the use of a common endpoint for all remdesivir trials, which would allow researchers to evaluate the efficacy of treatments by a common criterion, which is particularly important when combining evidence from different trials.

The excerpt above is part of the online posting Coronavirus Affects Everyone: The Gillings School Responds here.


Learn More About the Biostatistics Core of CFAR

Members of the Biostatistics Core of CFAR

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has been a public health issue since the early 1980s, and UNC’s Center for AIDS Research is working towards finding a solution. UNC CFAR uses clinical research, behavioral research, research into HIV biology and pathogenesis at the molecular level, and educational outreach to support investigation of HIV/AIDS. CFAR is a consortium of three complementary institutions: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Research Triangle Institute, and FHI 360. Each institution adds an additional breadth of specialization to the research effort, with UNC helping to balance clinical, teaching, and research missions.

Within CFAR there are several cores and services, including a Biostatistics Core. The purpose of the Biostatistics Core is to accelerate successful HIV/AIDS research by providing biostatistical support. They also work to support the organization by arranging mutually beneficial collaborations between CFAR researchers and statistical scientists. This includes working with other CFAR Cores to provide statistical consulting services ranging from professional consultations to inventing new statistical methods. They also collaborate on the framing of hypotheses and on the development of study designs, grant applications, journal articles and presentations, selection of statistical methods, performance of statistical computations and interpretive analyses, and research database management consultation and support.

The Biostatistics Core helps to promote opportunities for faculty and students in the statistical sciences at UNC to participate in HIV/AIDS-related research. The Core Director is Biostatistics professor Michael Hudgens, who has experience in collaborative research and statistical methodology development related to studies of infectious diseases, with emphasis on HIV. The lab is home to several of our department’s graduate student researchers. It also provides opportunities for undergraduates looking to become involved through a summer internship program, which is taking applications until March 4.

Recently, the CFAR Biostatistics Core has been supporting a $2.91 million award to create a new, ultra-long-acting HIV drug delivery implant (Victor Garcia, UNC School of Medicine, is the PI). The implant, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), in an effective way for those at risk of contracting HIV to prevent HIV infection by taking daily antiretroviral medication. This grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation will be hugely beneficial in continuing the research Hudgens and his associates have been working on with CFAR.


Bios Welcomes Professor Baiming Zou

Bios is pleased to welcome Assistant Professor Baiming Zou to our department. Baiming earned his PhD in Biostatistics here at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013.

Since 2013, he has served as a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Biostatistics. Baiming has a diverse academic background with Masters Degrees in Physics and Computer Science, in addition to a PhD in Biostatistics. His areas of specialty within biostatistics include clinical trials, comparative effectiveness research, and Big Data, among other topics.

We are excited to see the great things Professor Zou will do during his time here.




Bios Senior Awarded Churchill Scholarship

Bios Senior Daniel Malawsky

Daniel Malawsky, a current Biostatistics senior has been selected as one of this year’s Churchill Scholarship Recipients. Valued at $60,000, the award covers one year of all University and College fees to pursue a Master’s degree in the field of the recipient’s choice at Cambridge University in England. The scholarship is awarded annually to just 15 math, science, or engineering students.

There are several criteria a candidate must meet in order to be chosen for the scholarship, including outstanding academic achievement, proven talent in research, and outstanding personal qualities. Daniel has exemplified these characteristics throughout his undergraduate career, going above and beyond to make an impact on his community.

In addition to his Biostatistics major, Daniel holds a second major in Mathematics and a minor in Chemistry. He has conducted research in multiple labs and currently works in the Timothy Gershon’s childhood brain cancer lab doing bioinformatics analyses. As a Morehead Cain scholar, he spends a lot of his time volunteering. He emphasizes the impact his volunteer work has had on his career goals- “I volunteered at a refugee clinic in Israel, where I was born and raised. I continue to work with the clinic and the Eritrean community until today. This experience really made me want to advance global medical genetics research equity. Certain populations have been marginalized and understudied, and I want to expand the reach of genetics research to benefit marginalized populations in an ethical manner.”

In his personal time, Daniel plays the cello and is an active member of campus ensembles including the UNC chamber players and the baroque ensemble. He also holds an interest in philosophy and critical theory, and is teaching a C-START course this semester centered on philosophy and history of science from a critical theory lens.

At Cambridge, Daniel will do an MPhil in Biological Science at the Sanger Institute working with Hilary Martin. The Martin group focuses on medical genetics in understudied populations. He will be doing Whole Exome Sequencing studies with data collected in collaboration with recent migrant populations in the UK. Read more about the Churchill Scholarship award here.

Bios Professor Honored with Bernard Greenberg Alumni Endowment Award

Prof. Todd Schwartz

Bios Professor Todd Schwartz

Our very own Professor Todd Schwartz, has been named the Gillings School 2020 Bernard Greenberg AlumniEndowment Award recipient for mid-career faculty!

The award is presented to an outstanding full-time faculty member of UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health for excellence in the areas of teaching, research and service. The major criterion for the award is continuous demonstrated excellence over a number of years in service to the broad public health community. The award is intended for a mid-career faculty member as an incentive for continued excellence in these three areas.

Professor Schwartz works collaboratively with the UNC School of Nursing where he has a joint faculty appointment. He also works with the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center as Co-Director of the NIAMS-funded Methodology Core and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy with an adjunct faculty appointment. Much of his efforts are focused on supporting various projects across these units with regard to their biostatistical aspects, including consultation on design, conduct, analysis and dissemination. He also has published on innovative pedagogical methods, including the ‘flipped’ classroom.


Prof. Todd Schwartz

Todd Schwartz, DrPH

Position: Associate Professor

Time at the Gillings School: 20+ years, plus 5 prior to that as a student

What I do (and why I love it): I contribute to the scholarship, teaching, and service missions of the Department as well as the University at large. I work with several health-related research teams in a collaborative fashion, assisting with their study design, data analysis, and dissemination of findings. I serve on numerous dissertation committees, too. The interaction I have with students is very rewarding to me, both professionally and personally.

Classes I Teach: I enjoy teaching both in Biostatistics (BIOS 665: Analysis of Categorical Data) as well as a regression/ANOVA course for PhD students in the School of Nursing.

First job or Internship I had: During and after my undergraduate education, I worked in the Center for Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center. I was mainly doing SAS programming, which offered a solid foundation and great motivation for me to return to school for my graduate education.

Important Student Date Reminders

Final Exams Calendar link

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.