A Day In The Life Of A Biostatistician

April 29, 2013

in At Work With Statisticians

By Bhramar Mukherjee, Department of Biostatistics, University of Michigan, and member of the Regional Committee, Eastern North American Region, International Biometric Society

It is an exciting time to be a biostatistician; each day at work is absorbing and unique in its own way.

My day typically starts with meeting my graduate students. Most of them are working toward developing new methods with applications at the interface of genetic and environmental epidemiology. The genetic data are complex due to their high dimensionality; the environmental data come with the challenges of handling multiple correlated exposures, measurement error, missing data, and heterogeneity across study cohorts.

Most of the methodological questions that we are trying to solve arise out of important applications in medicine and public health; thus, understanding the data and the scientific context is a key component to our statistical formulation. This exercise is truly the best part of my day and my job. My students never cease to surprise me (mostly in good ways!).

In the afternoon I usually have my collaborative meetings. For interdisciplinary projects at Michigan it is usually in the form of a lab meeting where people from different disciplines and expertise gather to share their perspectives on a research question.

I often do not understand many of the details of the group discussions, as they involve complex biology, physiology and subject matter jargon. However, I have realized that these meetings are priceless for my own education, and over time, I do latently absorb the crux of the knowledge that is critical to posit an intelligent and informed statistical solution to the investigator’s question.

Off-campus collaborations are a big part of our job these days as many of us are involved in large, multi-site studies or are part of a consortium. I spend a few hours each week on conference calls and Skype, contributing to the analytical questions that arise and sharing my views with the large group through webinars.

I am amazed how technology has improved to facilitate such truly international collaborations, and how the research community and funding agencies have come forward to work together so that we can harness the power of larger studies and do better science. I get to know many biostatisticians around the world through these global studies.

After research and collaboration, most of my day is gone, but I still have to find time to teach courses, serve on committees, carry out my editorial responsibilities and take care of miscellaneous other professional commitments.

It is indeed an intense and busy job, but each evening when I go back home I can tell my daughter all the new and exciting things I learned and how being a biostatistician is the coolest thing on planet earth. I cannot wait to go back to work the next morning!