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Department of Biostatistics

Sandrah Eckel

Sandrah Eckel

A 2009-2010 graduate of our department, Sandy Eckel wrote her thesis, "Quantifying Individual and City Level Modification of the Health Effects of Air Pollution in Older Adults," under the direction of Tom Louis. She is now an assistant professor in the University of Southern California's Department of Preventive Medicine, Division of Biostatistics.

How did you get interested in the field of biostatistics? What was your background before enrolling at Hopkins?

I went to a small liberal arts college where I majored in Mathematics and French. I spent my junior year in Paris, participating in an internship program that, because of my math background, placed me in the biostatistics department of a French teaching hospital. I had no previous experience with statistics or computer programming but thanks to a supportive mentor and colleagues, I worked on a methodological research project and learned R. All the biostatisticians seemed to really enjoy their work, and I didn’t realize it until later, but I was hooked! I arrived at Hopkins Biostatistics straight out of college with little academic experience in biostatistics, but I was able to successfully “start from 0” in the Hopkins program.

Describe your current position and responsibilities in a way that will inform prospective students about career opportunities in Biostatistics.

I am currently an assistant professor in the Division of Biostatistics, Department of Preventive Medicine, at the University of Southern California, a private university in Los Angeles. My responsibilities include research—both on statistical methods and applied public health problems—and teaching. In a typical week, I might divide my time among: paper writing, performing data analysis, developing and evaluating statistical methods, meeting with colleagues in environmental health and biostatistics with whom I collaborate, identifying potential funding opportunities, meeting with students, and preparing and teaching an introductory course on data analysis.

How did Johns Hopkins Biostatistics prepare you for your career? What aspects of the program did you find most useful?

John Hopkins is a wonderful place to study biostatistics. I appreciated the rigor of the coursework, the strong sense of community and camaraderie within the department, the approachable world-class faculty, and access to the incredible resources of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

What are your favorite memories of your time at Johns Hopkins Biostatistics?

I have so many good memories, making it difficult to choose! Most of my favorite memories involve the people in the department and our social gatherings, which include: the annual Chili Party; the departmental retreat in places like Hershey, Pennsylvania and Gettysburg; Friday happy hours in the Student Lounge where the Biostatistics Department would be the most well-represented department; and the student journal club.

Is there any other information about your experience at Hopkins that would be useful for prospective students?

Baltimore is a great place to be a PhD student. It is a small city, with enough interesting things to do when you do have free time, but not so many things that you are distracted from your studies. The city is relatively inexpensive and I came to love the color of the different neighborhoods. Within JHSPH, the Biostatistics Department has a reputation of being friendly and helpful. I remember generally whenever I met students from other departments, they would usually have nothing but positive things to say about their experiences with Biostatistics at JHSPH.