A 2010-11 graduate of our ScM program, Nathan James wrote his thesis, "Quantifying Walking Path Quality Using an Objective Measure of Physical and Social Disorder," under the direction of Frank Curriero. He is a research associate in the Department of Surgery in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Describe your current position and responsibilities in a way that will inform prospective students about career opportunities in biostatistics.
I am currently employed as a Research Associate at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the Department of Surgery. My position involves collaborating with surgeons, physicians, epidemiologists and other researchers to design and analyze research studies, mostly related to kidney and liver transplantation. Depending on the project, my involvement ranges from briefly consulting on small statistical issues to performing data cleaning and statistical programming to leading the entire analytical process from hypothesis generation through manuscript publication.
How did Johns Hopkins Biostatistics prepare you for your career? What aspects of the program did you find most useful?
The Biostatistics program prepared me in several ways. The coursework built a solid base of core statistical knowledge and reasoning, but my student work experience as a teaching assistant and consultant was equally important. Teaching helped me improve my organization and communication and as a consultant I developed skills in project management, collaboration and real world problem-solving.
Can you describe your day-to-day life as a graduate?
A majority of my time is spent on data cleaning, exploration, data analysis and writing and communicating results for the projects in the lab. Because there are so many projects going on concurrently, I devote a portion of each day to prioritizing, organizing, and documenting my work. I also spend time checking others’ analysis, reviewing manuscript drafts, meeting with collaborators, reading and researching the statistical and medical literature, and attending research lectures and presentations.
What is your favorite memory of your time at Johns Hopkins Biostatistics?
I appreciated and enjoyed the annual retreats. These were a good time to connect with faculty and other students, learn about the range of research in the department, and reflect on the role of biostatistics in research within and outside of Hopkins.
Is there any other information about your experience at Hopkins that would be useful for recruiting prospective students and/or helping current students? This can include your experience in Baltimore.
For me, it was really important to have a group of students with whom I could study, ask questions, and discuss problems. Hopkins is really conducive to this kind of collaborative learning.
What has been your most satisfying job experience using your biostatistics background?
Often the underlying clinical or biological issues are quite complex. I get the most satisfaction working with researchers to come up with an illuminating graphic, a unique analysis, or an intuitive explanation that helps elucidate a complicated problem and advance the process of scientific discovery.
How would you describe your experience with the Biostatistics Center with respect to how it helps you in your current work?
The most important aspect of my work at the Biostatistics Center was learning how to juggle multiple projects and to deal with questions for which there was no clear answer or where I didn’t have a lot of experience.
What reasons might you give to encourage a prospective student to get a master’s biostatistics degree at Hopkins?
There are so many interesting areas of research going on right now for which master’s level statisticians are a critical part of the research team and the work is challenging, important and interesting.