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!

In this edition:

Exploring the Ways of Water in Charlotte over the Summer
Gillings’ Bios Impactful Research
Faculty Workshop on Innovative Teaching
Youchao Jiang Profile
Gillings Faculty and Students at regional ASA event
Using Data in the Environmental Sciences

Important Dates


Great BSA Social – a Fall Hike to Clear the Mind

OUR STUDENTS – First Person

Undergrad Sarah Wotus Uses Bios Skills in Charlotte Internship

Sarah Nicole Wotus, a senior with a biostatistics major and an environmental science and studies minor (on day she was inducted into PBK)

This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the City of Charlotte’s Storm Water department, specifically with the Water Quality team. They needed someone with some GIS background – which luckily I had taken a Gillings course in – and someone analytically minded to tackle one of their projects. I knew very little about stream restoration, water quality and flooding issues, or working in the public sector, they took the time to orient me for the position. Within a week of starting, I was ready to handle my tasks for the summer.

My primary project focused specifically on culverts, the structures that allow streams to flow under roads, driveways, and trails. Using my statistics skills learned at Gillings, I reconstructed the data collection form from previous years to obtain uniform data that could then be evaluated to determine the best culvert design. After data collection, I conducted exploratory data analysis to determine if there were trends in the data or significant conclusions. Components like shape, slope, and width of the culvert were found to have significant or borderline significant impacts on the success of culverts. Additionally, with the help of a coworker, I completed a principal component analysis to see which of the design aspects were most impactful on culvert functioning or not functioning in terms of the regulatory standards placed on culverts. Taking the lead on this project was an incredible opportunity, and I am excited to see how the efforts continue. The standardization procedures developed over the summer will allow for year-to-year and seasonal comparisons going forward.

My secondary summer project was reorganizing and adding in missing data from their Arc GIS project files. After consulting with the Water Quality team to determine what information was most important and easiest to extract. The data was condensed into 5 layers representing different types of projects as well as whether it was a Water Quality team project or not. Fields and attributes to be contained in each were outlined, and I set to work on reorganizing and adding missing data into Arc GIS based on construction plans and images.

I thoroughly enjoyed working for the City of Charlotte. Those that worked on these projects were both extremely knowledgeable and very willing to educate me throughout the internship. My goal post graduation is to apply statistical and data science tools to the environmental science world, and the summer in the Queen City gave me a good grasp of what that could look like in a water/stream focused organization.


Phi Beta Kappa

Congratulations new Phi Beta Kappa inductees! In November, six Biostatistics students were inducted into the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa. Samveg Desai, Abigail Gancz, Matt Gilleskie, Kyra Mulder, Alyssa Tan and Sarah Wotus join the prestigious liberal arts and science focused society. Membership is offered to students who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree and have completed courses in the liberal arts and sciences while maintaining a high GPA. Kudos!


Lineberger and Gillings Team Study Computer Classification of Breast Cancer Tumors

In a study published in the journal NPJ Breast Cancer, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported using a form of artificial intelligence, called machine learning, or deep learning, to train a computer to identify certain features of breast cancer tumors from images.

The computer also could identify the tumor type based on complex molecular and genomic features, a feat that pathologists cannot yet do from a picture alone.

The researchers believe this approach, while still in its early stages, eventually could lead to cost savings for the clinic and in breast cancer research.

Melissa Troester, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and James Stephen Marron, PhD, professor of biostatistics at the UNC Gillings School and Amos Hawley Distinguished Professor of statistics and operations research in the College of Arts and Sciences, are co-authors of the study.

Read more here.


Faculty in Teaching Workshop

Biostatistics faculty members – Ivanova, Monaco, Roggenkamp, and Schwartz – attended the Center for Faculty Excellence’s 7th Faculty Showcase on Teaching on Nov. 2, 2018.  At the daylong event, faculty members from all over the university shared tools and concepts that are find useful in their everyday teaching lives, whether in communicating ideas, conducting class, simplifying grading, or scheduling meetings with students.

“As a person interested in data, I was especially impressed by data collection methods used in labs by physics professors, based on shared cloud-based spreadsheets,” said Kathy Roggenkamp, Biostatistics instructor. “Instead of every team doing the same experiment, each team performs a different experimental combination and enter its data into the shared spreadsheet.  At the end of lab, the spreadsheet can be used as the basis for graphs showing how relationships change over the range of experiments.”

Other sessions concerned potential uses of increasingly accessible virtual reality tools, best practices when designing online courses, the use of role-playing to enhance student empathy, the value of simulation in professional training, and using active learning techniques to supplement lecturing to ensure that students understand concepts. A particularly exciting session concerned a method called C.R.E.A.T.E. (https//teachcreate.org) to encourage undergraduate science students to engage with primary research papers using techniques such as cartooning the main ideas, annotating the paper’s figures, and generating hypotheses about reasonable next experiments.

The Biostatistics instructors, who attended the event, are now eager to apply what they learned in their classrooms to improve student learning and interaction.


Dr. Yuchao Jiang

Youchao Jiang, PhD

Position: Assistant Professor

Time at the Gillings School: 1.5 years

What I do (and why I love it):

The explosion of high-throughput technologies brings biomedical researchers unprecedented opportunities to scrutinize the genome/transcriptome/epigenome at a new level. However, statistical method development has been lagging behind. This gap leads to an unwanted consequence of some statisticians working on statistical theory for outdated microarray data while some computational biologists apply sub-optimal statistical procedures on their cutting-edge data. My unique training background and previous research experience prepares me to be an interdisciplinary researcher who works closely with biomedical researchers to address statistical and computational challenges presented by the new technologies. I see myself as a statistical genomicist and a computational biologist. In the long run, my mission is to introduce problems arising from new biomedical data to the statistics community and to provide data-driven statistical methods and open-source tools to the biologists for better data analysis and experimental design.

First job or internship I had was:

My current job at UNC as a tenure-track Assistant Professor with joint appointment in the Department of Biostatistics and the Department of Genetics Since I arrived, in addition to my methodological work with my students, I have established collaborations with PIs in the Gillings School, the School of Medicine, and the Lineberger Cancer Center. One of my closest collaborations at UNC is with the laboratory of Dr. Aziz Sancar, 2015 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. Together we are investigating mechanisms of DNA damage, repair, and circadian clock and applying this information for cancer treatment and prevention.


North Carolina ASA Workshop and Dinner

Our Faculty and Students at regional ASA event

Biostatistics students and faculty had a chance to interact outside of the classroom at the North Carolina American Statistical Association Workshop and Dinner event held at the end of November. The event consisted of a day-long workshop followed by a dinner featuring two talks.

During the workshop, students learned how to effectively communicate statistical ideas, shape their professional image, and advance their career while asking questions and interacting with professionals in the field. Some of the presenters were alumni of the Biostatistics Department, including Sonia Thomas, Richard Zink and Lisa LaVange.

Following the workshop, Professor Çetinkaya-Rundel from Duke University and Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center Director Lisa LaVange spoke to the students during dinner, offering their stories and encouragement to the students. Through this event, Biostatistics students gained valuable insight into their potential career paths and futures.


Bilsborrow’s Travel Update

As a result of his ongoing research, Professor Richard Bilsborrow of the Biostatistics department has been traveling around the world exploring population, migration and environment linkages in developing countries.

In June 2017 he was one of two researchers invited to Paris for a planning meeting with demographers at the Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques to plan an international conference for 2018 in Paris, entitled “Migration, Environment and Climate: What risk inequalities?”

The conference took place in October at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris at the Museum of Natural History and was attended by over 250 people from all continents. He participated with the other organizers in evaluating and selecting papers for presentation and was one of the four panelists who summarized the main accomplishments and conclusions from the meeting and future directions needed.

In between Paris meetings, he met with the French organizers in November 2017 at the International Conference on Population which is organized once every 4 years by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, in Cape Town, South Africa. There he also presented two papers on his work in the Ecuadorian Amazon on migration, land use, deforestation, and health.

Bilsborrow’s travels will continue with his role as a discussant in two sessions on these topics at the next meeting of the Population Association of America in 2019 in Austin, Texas.


Important Student Date Reminders


Thursday, December 13, 2018- Tuition and fees due for all students who have registered before the Billing Date.  Students who register by the Billing Date must pay or defer tuition and fees by this date or their schedule will be cancelled and all their courses dropped.   Prior term balances cannot be deferred and cannot be paid with financial aid; they must be paid to avoid registration cancellation.

Spring 2019 semester

Wednesday, January 9, 2019- Classes begin for all students.  Late registration begins. Note: $20 Fee charged for late registration.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019- Last day for all students to add a course or late register using the web registration system.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019- Students on waitlists will be moved into any available seats in Spring classes for the last time.  Waitlists are then purged.

Monday, January 21, 2019- HOLIDAY-Martin Luther King, Jr. Day-NO CLASSES

Wednesday, January 23, 2019- Last day for schools/departments to add or drop a course for all students using the web registration system.

Last day to add a course or reduce course load and have tuition adjusted. Note: Dropping all course requires processing a withdrawal of enrollment from the University and follows a different prorated refund policy. See Withdrawal Policy.

  • Last day for all Undergraduate students to drop a course using the web registration system with no grade recorded.
  • Last day for Undergraduate students to file an application in ConnectCarolina for degree to be awarded in December.
  • Official University Enrollment Reporting Date (Census Date).   Hours at census will be used in the official Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) calculation for recipients of financial aid. After this date any changes to your schedule must be done on a paper form.  Courses dropped past census date even to change to audit, by policy, students are personally responsible for paying the tuition cost for the credit hours dropped.  The policy can be viewed here  http://gradschool.unc.edu/pdf/tuition_drop_dates.pdf .

For more Gillings School events, view the school’s event calendar.

If you have news or a story idea you feel would fit BiosBeat, please submit them to Jeff Oberhaus.  

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