PhD Student, Biostatistics
No one could call Minnesota-born-and-bred Alyssa Frazee undertraveled. Before coming to Johns Hopkins for the Biostatistics Graduate Program, she’d been to nine countries and territories, from Japan to the Cayman Islands. However, the most important place for her is home. “I’ve been a few places, but what defined me as a person is where I’m from,” she says, adding it’s the Minnesota experiences that largely shaped her academic and career choices. Describing herself as “a bit of a geek,” Frazee says she’s always been drawn to math, and in high school was captain of the math team. During a statistics advanced placement class, the teacher sparked her interest by telling her that statistics could be “used for anything.”
With that in mind, Frazee headed off to St. Olaf College to major in math. As she neared graduation, her teacher’s words steered her toward investigating graduate programs in biostatistics. She saw it as a way to channel her interest in math into an area with an enormous potential for helping people. Frazee’s current focus is on making sense of the mountains of data generated by genomics—specifically, the high-throughput data produced by work to detect which genes are active in certain diseases. Such experiments can generate terabytes of initially nonsensical data. But by using tried-and-true analysis techniques, as well as developing new ones, biostatisticians can discover patterns that reveal new health knowledge. Frazee has worked with Johns Hopkins endocrine surgeon Martha Zeiger to develop new methods for analyzing gene expression data to determine whether thyroid tumors are benign or malignant; and, with her mentor, Jeff Leek, an assistant professor in Biostatistics, to determine differences in brain tissue gene expression in mental health disorders.
Frazee hopes to continue her work at an academic medical institution after she graduates. “I’m open to traveling to other places,” she says, “but I would definitely not mind going home to Minneapolis.”