Matthew N. McCall
Matt McCall is a 2009-2010 graduate of our PhD program. His thesis, under the direction of Rafael Irizarry, was entitled "Preprocessing and Bar Coding of Data from a Single Microarray." Matt was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester Medical Center, where he is investigating networks involving cooperation response genes that respond synergistically to oncogenetic mutations. Matt writes, “This collaboration presents interesting methodological challenges that have important implications in biomedical cancer genetics." While at Hopkins, Matt received the Helen Abbey Award for Excellence in Teaching. Based on his PhD thesis research, he published seven articles (first author on five). He was also part of the Biostatistics intramural soccer team, which won the league championship.
How did you get interested in the field of biostatistics? What was your background before enrolling at Hopkins?
In 2003, I received a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) under the supervision of Dr. Michael Newton. At the time I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan and had discarded several majors, steadily adding to the list of things I did not want to pursue. My experiences that summer piqued my interest in statistics, and I returned to the university to complete a B.S. in statistics. After graduating with highest distinction, I continued my training as an Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) recipient under the supervision of Dr. Paul Meltzer in the Cancer Genetics branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). While at NHGRI, I designed and implemented a suite of quality-control metrics for custom microarrays and developed an algorithm for microarray time series data analysis. My experience working closely with bench scientists prompted me to pursue graduate studies in biostatistics with a focus on newly-developed genomic technologies.
How did Johns Hopkins Biostatistics prepare you for your career? What aspects of the program did you find most useful?
The combination of rigorous statistical coursework and courses in bioinformatics, molecular biology, and computer science prepared me to work in a multi-disciplinary environment and to collaborate with scientists from a variety of backgrounds. Following the coursework with several years of mentored research under the supervision of leading biostatisticians was an extremely important aspect of my graduate work. It prepared me for a research career and provided the opportunity to publish numerous articles. The organization of faculty, postdocs and students into working groups that focus on particular areas of statistics or applied research allows for regular interaction with brilliant scientists attempting to tackle a variety of challenging problems.
What are your favorite memories of your time at Johns Hopkins Biostatistics?
There was always a strong sense of camaraderie between the students. During our first few years, we would regularly meet to work on problem sets and study for comps. And this did not change even after we were each pursuing our own areas of research. When one of us would be stuck on a problem, we could drop by another student's office and talk through the problem. Often the process of trying to explain the problem to someone not familiar with it was enough to provide the necessary insight. On the social side, Friday Happy Hours and the annual Chili Party provided some of the best memories.
What advice would you give to prospective students?
Get involved in research as early as possible.
Learn to work well with your fellow students. Being a good collaborator is an essential and often overlooked skill.
Describe your current position and responsibilities in a way that will inform prospective students about career opportunities in Biostatistics.
As an Assistant Professor in the Biostatistics department in a Medical Center, I’m involved in statistical methods research, collaborative research, and teaching (primarily PhD students). My research interests are in statistical genomics, systems biology, and bioinformatics. I am currently developing methods to estimate gene regulatory networks from gene perturbation experiments, to address within-subject heterogeneity in genomic tumor biomarkers, to preprocess and analyze genomic data, and to examine the effect of cellular composition on tissue-level gene expression.
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. Make sure you explore as much of it as you can. In particular, check out Hampden, Mount Washington, and Federal Hill. These areas are a bit harder to reach but worth the trek.
What has been your most satisfying job experience using your biostatistics background?
I’ve only had two jobs after obtaining my PhD: a postdoctoral fellow and an assistant professor. Both of these were at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and both were very satisfying.
What reasons might you give to encourage a prospective student to get a master’s Biostatistics degree at Hopkins?
There are far more people that need help analyzing data than there are statisticians who are qualified to perform these analyses. With a Master’s degree in Biostatistics from Hopkins, you would be exceedingly qualified for any number of job openings.
Can you describe your day-to-day life as a graduate?
During my first two years, I spent most of my time on coursework with a smaller amount of time working on my first research project. My fellow students and I would often get together for dinner followed by working on problem sets late into the night. After completing the core coursework, my day-to-day life changed substantially. I still took the occasional course, but the majority of my time was spent on my thesis research. The ability to work independently (and at times remotely) was beneficial to me, since my then girlfriend (now wife) lived in Miami. I was able to visit her for weeks at a time while still keeping up with my thesis research.
Please list any notable accomplishments that you would like us to highlight.
While a graduate student at Hopkins, I received the Helen Abbey Award for Excellence in Teaching. I was also part of the Biostatistics intramural soccer team, which won the league championship.
As a postdoctoral fellow, in 2013 I received a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from NIH/NHGRI for my grant entitled:
STATISTICAL METHODS FOR ESTIMATION OF GENE REGULATORY NETWORKS
In 2015, in my first year as an Assistant Professor, I received the Graduate Student Society Advocacy Award at the University of Rochester Medical Center.