A 2005-2006 graduate of our PhD program, Brian's thesis, "Causal Inference with Sensitivity Analysis: Methods for Investigating Mediation and Accounting for Death in Observational Studies," was written under the direction of Daniel Scharfstein. Since leaving Hopkins, he has expanded his research into studying the exclusion of minorities from clinical trials. This resulted in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine (Egleston et al., 2010) that received international news coverage and public support from five U.S. senators. He finds being able to combine his biostatistics training and interest in health services research into such a high-impact publication very rewarding and feels his Hopkins training allowed him to accomplish this. Currently, Brian is an Associate Research Professor at the Fox Chase Cancer Center with Temple University Health System.
How did you get interested in the field of biostatistics? What was your background before enrolling at Hopkins?
I became interested in biostatistics while working as a research project professional at the University of Chicago. At the time, I had a Master of Public Policy degree. I was working in the area of health services research and I had two realizations: 1) much of the research on which I was working was very technical, and 2) job opportunities seemed to be better for those with technical backgrounds. This caused me to become interested in biostatistics research.
How did Johns Hopkins Biostatistics prepare you for your career? What aspects of the program did you find most useful?
I think that the theoretical training in biostatistics was the most useful. In particular, I felt that the well structured courses were very helpful. As a faculty member at Temple University, I have discovered that Ph.D. programs in other disciplines often do not have strong course work components. In other disciplines, there may be more emphasis on wet laboratory research with a single mentor over in-class training. I felt that the teaching curriculum at Johns Hopkins Biostatistics gave me a solid foundation in mathematical statistics, probability theory, and applied statistics. I was able to take classes from a diverse group of faculty. This was extremely helpful in giving me a solid foundation in statistics.
What are your favorite memories of your time at Johns Hopkins Biostatistics?
My favorite memories are working with my academic advisor (Dr. Daniel Scharfstein) and my graduate assistantship supervisor (Dr. Ellen MacKenzie). We were working on very interesting problems relating to trauma center outcomes. Both individuals were extremely knowledgeable, and I learned a lot. It was very exciting that the research on which I was working was accepted for publication by the New England Journal of Medicine (Mackenzie et al. 2006).
What advice would you give to prospective students?
I would recommend taking math analysis classes before attending the program. If realistic, I might also suggest working in a substantive field for a year or two after college before applying to a Ph.D. program. I have found that students who have real world experience tend to excel a bit more quickly in their careers after they graduate from a biostatistics program. Real world experience gives one both job skills and also knowledge of which areas of a biostatistics program might be most important for one's future career growth opportunities.
Describe your current position and responsibilities in a way that will inform prospective students about career opportunities in Biostatistics.
I am currently an Associate Research Professor at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. In my current position, I collaborate with physicians and scientists on research projects and grants. I also conduct my own research. Because I have my own grant funding, I have the ability to spend about 50% of my time on my own research. I have had first-author publications in journals as diverse as Biometrics, Statistics in Medicine and the New England Journal of Medicine.
Can you describe your day-to-day life?
I work at the Fox Chase Cancer Center on a large number of diverse projects. However, my work is focused on Medicare claims data research projects. I spend a lot of my time writing papers, writing grant applications, managing data, and performing analyses. Data management often consumes more of my time than data analysis. In the end, I have exciting published papers and conference abstracts that conclude the hard work.
What about your experience at Hopkins that would be useful for prospective students and/or helping current students? This can include your experience in Baltimore.
Baltimore is a great place to live as a student. Before I moved to Baltimore, I lived in Chicago, which was a big and exciting city. However, bigger cities are much more expensive and there are a lot more distractions that can make studying difficult. Baltimore is much cheaper and one can have a much better lifestyle as a student in Baltimore than in bigger cities.
What has been your most satisfying job experience using your biostatistics background?
In 2010, the New England Journal of Medicine published a research letter on which I was the first author. The letter detailed the exclusion of gay and lesbian patients from clinical trials. I was able to use data to show that such exclusions were common in some disciplines. This letter received a lot of international news attention, and also spurred action from the government and U.S. Senators on the issue of clinical trial inclusions. It was exciting to merge my background in Public Policy with my biostatistics training in such a meaningful way. So many policy debates are not data driven, and I am excited to be able to use data to back up my arguments.
What reasons might you give to encourage a prospective student to get a master’s Biostatistics degree at Hopkins?
It takes less time to get a master's degree than a Ph.D., and there are a lot of career opportunities for people with master's degrees. Also, Johns Hopkins Department of Biostatistics has a great reputation as a top biostatistics program. Graduating from a top program may make it easier to find a fulfilling post-graduation job.
Please list any notable accomplishments that you would like us to highlight.
I have had three of my own NIH grants as a principal investigator since I graduated from Johns Hopkins. Being able to work as a collaborator on others' grants and on my own grants as well is very fulfilling.