PMean: They want a short biography from me

I should have titled this page “I’m a Star!” because the School of Medicine’s Marketing and Communications Office is asking me questions to prepare a short biography to highlight the research I’m doing. Actually, that office is talking to over a hundred researchers in the School of Medicine, so I’m not really a star after all. But here are the questions that they started with. I’ll reply by email and they may get more information by email or a face-to-face interview. Makeup!

How did you get started in research?

It seems like I’ve been doing research all my life. It’s like a puzzle with the one big difference is that it’s a puzzle that no one has solved yet.

How would you describe the focus of your research? How does it affect patients? How might it in the future?

I’m a statistician, so a lot of my research is helping other people with their research. I’m fifth author or eight author, but that’s okay. It’s fun working on a team–that’s the only way that research gets done these days. And the output of the team is far better than anything that any of us could do individually.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve been put on a grant to look at research uses of data from the electronic health record. It’s really exciting, because you take the medical record, scrub out any personal identifiers, and then store everything in a relational database. There’s a ton of data, and it represents medical care as it is actually provided, not some artificial setting in a randomized clinical trial. Even with a relational database, it’s a challenge to extract the data that you need, but that’s part of the fun.

What is your greatest success so far? What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?

I wrote a book about Evidence Based Medicine. Many of the things that you use to critically appraise a journal article are statistical in nature: did you randomize, did you use blinding, did you rely on a surrogate outcome? So the book was about Statistics, in a way, but at a very high conceptual level.

What I’d really like to do next is write a book about research ethics. This would be a series of case studies, but I want to use a graphic novel format. I’m not an artist, so I’d have to find someone, but I think a graphic novel format lends itself well to this topic. When you find yourself in an ethical dilemma, you are experiencing a whirlwind of conflicting thoughts and emotions. A graphic novel can express that far better than plain text.

What excites you about your work?

When you are working with someone on a data analysis, and cranking out results on the computer screen, you can point to something and ask “What does that mean?” And you are there at the moment when a discovery is born. There’s nothing else like it.

What do you do to relax away from work? Any hobbies? Anything completely apart from your research, or that might surprise your students or co-workers?

I run 5K and 10K races. I’m rather slow, but you’re competing against yourself, so it doesn’t matter if 90% of the runners finish before you. The best part are these major races like the Plaza 10K. They shut down all the big streets and you’re running down the middle of Ward Parkway like you own the roadway.