Simina Boca is a 2010-11 graduate of our PhD program. Her thesis, under the direction of Giovanni Parmigiani and Jeff Leek, was entitled "Interpretable Set Analysis for High-Dimensional Data." Simina was a postdoctoral fellow in the Biostatistics Branch at the National Cancer Institute. Her main responsibility was conducting research, both methodological and collaborative. She is currently an Assistant Professor (Research Track) at Georgetown University Medical Center in the Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics (ICBI) and Departments of Oncology and Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Biomathematics.
How did you get interested in the field of biostatistics? What was your background before enrolling at Hopkins?
I first learned about the existence of the field of biostatistics in my high school genetics class. I was interested in pursuing a math-related topic, but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do. I knew that I was not interested in pure math. In college, I pursued the graduate-preparatory math option at the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign (UIUC). I also took as many molecular and cell biology courses as I could, since I wanted to have a strong foundation in those fields. I interned for two summers in the Math and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Lab, where I worked on some bioinformatics problems, more from the database/programming as opposed to the statistical point of view. When I applied for graduate school, I applied to a variety of biostatistics/bioinformatics/applied math programs. The program at Hopkins seemed to have the right training structure for me.
How did Johns Hopkins Biostatistics prepare you for your career? What aspects of the program did you find most useful?
I think Johns Hopkins gave me a really good background in both the statistical and collaborative aspects of biostatistics research. It was also very helpful learning to juggle multiple projects at once. In particular, the exposure to collaborations makes the transition to a postdoc and eventually a faculty job much easier. I also earned an MHS in Bioinformatics while doing my PhD – this cross-training helped me obtain my current position, which is at an interdisciplinary Biomedical Informatics center. I also have departmental appointments in Oncology and Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Biomathematics.
What are your favorite memories of your time at Johns Hopkins Biostatistics?
I really enjoy the relationships I formed with faculty, staff and students. The set-up of the student offices definitely served to facilitate the formation of these friendships. I had a great time having lunch with my fellow students, chatting to people over pastries before the seminar, and going to Happy Hour. I also enjoyed exploring Baltimore with my close friends from the department. One of my office mates my first year became one of my best friends. We both lived near Homewood, so on Thursdays we would take the shuttle together, play badminton at the gym, then go out to dinner. We did this almost every Thursday! She graduated after my first year, but we’re still very close.
What advice would you give to prospective students?
Hopkins Biostat has awesome science and awesome people! Most importantly, the program prepares students really well for a future career in biostatistics and related fields, while also allowing them to form great relationships with the other members of the department. This combination is not very easy to find. It also provides enough structure to keep students on track toward graduation, but enough flexibility to allow them to explore multiple areas of interest with different faculty members from both inside and outside the department. Everyone in the department was always friendly and willing to help. – I know I can still count on them for help in both my personal life and my career!'
Describe your current position and responsibilities in a way that will inform prospective students about career opportunities in Biostatistics.
My primary work responsibility is performing research in the area of biomedical informatics, including both projects that I lead and projects where I support the team science effort. ICBI is a very collaborative center and Georgetown is a great place for team science, which means that most of my research is in response to some of today’s top biomedical questions of interest and involves working closely with many top scientists. I do everything from programming (in R!) to designing studies to supervising students to writing papers and applying for grants. I never get bored with my 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 city! There are tons of things to do (museums, plays, Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry, events like the Privateer Festival and Miracle on 34th Street) and amazing places to eat which are also full of personality (some of my favorites include Golden West Cafe and Pete’s Grille.) It’s also incredibly affordable for grad students!
What has been your most satisfying job experience using your biostatistics background?
Too many to recall! An awesome recent experience involved a paper where I led the data analysis, had input on the experimental design, and wrote the paper. It was great being involved in so many stages of the research process. The biostatistics training I obtained at Hopkins definitely helped throughout!
Please list any notable accomplishments that you would like us to highlight.
I am really proud that my husband and I both have successful careers while at the same time having a family! I defended my PhD just a few months before my son was born, starting my postdoc within the Biostatistics Branch of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at NCI with a young baby. My daughter was born almost a year and a half into my current job. In terms of specific work accomplishments, I just got my 20th paper accepted recently, which is a nice milestone.