Statistics Students Participate in SAMSI Undergraduate Workshop

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Between May 14 and 19, two students in UGA’s statistics program were among the 30 attendees at the annual undergraduate workshop hosted by the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI). Shuchi Goyal and Rachel Zilinskas are both in their final year of undergraduate study at UGA and applied for the workshop, which was held at North Carolina State University, upon the recommendation of Dr. Abhyuday Mandal.

 

The workshop presented a rigorous introduction to applications of Bayesian statistics, including concepts such as time series, random forest designs, and data assimilation, in a broad set of areas ranging from music genre identification to searching for exoplanets. Throughout the workshop, participants gained experience using R and Python to conduct data analysis and worked in teams to present research projects at the end of the week. Goyal implemented and compared new data assimilation models for numerical weather predictions, while Zilinskas used random forest methods to classify stars based on light curve analysis.

 

In addition to the deep dive into the world of applied statistics, the workshop also offered opportunities for personal and professional development, as students met with directors of doctoral and master’s programs in the Research Triangle area. The overall experience provided a rich taste of the advancements being made in statistics research and unique insight into the rigorous thinking and focus involved in pursuing this path.

Dr. Lazar Named President-Elect of Caucus for Women in Statistics!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Nicole Lazar.jpgProfessor Nicole Lazar has been named President-Elect of the Caucus for Women in Statistics effective January 1 2018. She will serve as President of the Caucus in 2019.  The Caucus for Women in Statistics (CWS) fosters opportunities for the education, employment and advancement of women in statistics. It also promotes the increased participation of women in professional meetings and on governing boards and committees of statistical societies.

Congratulations to Dr. Lazar on being a part of this important movement and all her accomplishments!

Undergraduate Spotlight: Sarah Beth Robinson

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sarah Beth Robinson.jpgSarah Beth Robinson is an amazing undergraduate student in the University of Georgia's Department of Statistics. She just graduated in Spring 2017 and already has some big plans for the future. Sarah was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa on April 14th. She also will be working at Oak Ridge National Lab in Oak Ridge, TN this summer as a research intern in the Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Computing Group within the Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. Starting in Fall of 2017 Sarah will attend grad school at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Here she will be in their Statistics PhD program and will receive her funding through a NIH Biostatistics Training Grant. 

Congrats Sarah! We cannot wait to see what your future holds! 

Xin Xing Featured in UGA Spotlight

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Xin-Xing-Banner.jpg 

Xin Xing, a doctoral student in the Department of Statistics, uses advanced DNA sequencing technology to develop high-performance computation algorithms on the human microbiome – the collection of the many diverse types of micro-organisms that occupy almost every part of the human body.

Xing is especially interested in gut microbiome related to type-2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.

“Many people know that diabetes can cause blindness, nerve pain, and lack of circulation in the limbs that can lead to amputation, Xing explains. “Fewer know that the disease can also contribute to problems throughout the digestive tract.”

For this reason, people with diabetes have a high risk of reflux, abdominal pain, nausea, ulcers, and diarrhea.

“While a lot of money has been invested on the genetic factors that affect diabetes, there is limited research on the environmental factors (such as the microbiome) that may contribute toward the disease,” says Xing.

“We know that the microbial distribution in the diabetes and the healthy gut is different. What we’d like to know is the causality- what changes are caused by the disease and how changes affect the course of the disease.”

Xing’s research is a balance between statistical methods and its application to real-world problems.

“Current technology allows us to collect more and more data, but also presents challenges for scientists to analyze this data and extract meaningful information from it.”

This balance between statistical theory and application, Xing explains, is why a doctoral degree from the University of Georgia was so appealing to him.

“The microbial world is very complex and like a mystery to me,” Xing says. “I’m looking for ways to use my statistics knowledge to understand the nature of microbiomes.”

Xing’s algorithm has been applied on two real-world data sets: one relating to type-2 diabetes patients and another to inflammatory bowel disease patients.

The algorithm successfully identified more than 2,000 microbial species, of which less than 10 percent have reference genomes available.

In total, 8 pathogenic microbial species have been identified by the algorithm. This includes 7 unknown species and 1 known species related to inflammatory bowel disease (Bateroides fragilis).

“Learning about the microbial communities may provide doctors with a new way to give fast and accurate diagnoses,” Xing explains. “In addition, by identifying these disease-related pathogens, we can help researches develop treatments.”

This research holds tremendous scientific promise since bulk DNA sequencing allows scientists to bypass the difficulties arising in cell cultivation (such as the rapid cell death of large amounts of microbial species once the environment has changed).

Following graduation, Xing will pursue a career  in academia and continue his research in statistics, while teaching and sharing knowledge with students.

To view this article and more please visit http://grad.uga.edu/

Statistical Excellence

Monday, May 1, 2017

The first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, Stacy Cobb has turned a passion for public health into a career as a biostatistician.

Along the way, Cobb has discovered an expansive capacity for learning, the importance of role models and the crucial role that confidence plays in the formula for academic success.

She returns to the UGA campus Friday for Commencement ceremonies to receive the doctorate she earned in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

As an undergraduate at Savannah State University, C[Stacy Cobb, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, defended her dissertation in January and has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She is returning to Athens Friday to receive her degree during Commencement ceremonies.] Stacy Cobb, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, defended her dissertation in January and has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She is returning to Athens Friday to receive her degree during Commencement ceremonies. (Photos by Freeman Fotographics)obb was among one of the first cohorts of STEM programs for minorities.

"They really pushed us to stay in the science realm," said Cobb, who said she's loved math since her formative school years but didn't always have the confidence necessary to succeed in a very challenging discipline.

Though gaps remain, Cobb's success shows that developing the interest of young women and minorities in science and technology fields results from a combination of effective programs that encourage underrepresented groups in STEM fields, as well as the enduring power of societal cues and role models.

"Exposure and a more welcoming environment for women and people of color will help. The recent film 'Hidden Figures' is a great example. I didn't grow up knowing that women like that even existed," Cobb said. "If the interest is sparked then more people will migrate towards the area."

Cobb began her graduate studies at Stony Brook University, New York, in a bridge-to-doctorate program, though the curriculum and its design didn't match with her strengths and abilities. When she ended up with a master's degree instead, Cobb took it a sign of failure, that gaps in her learning style meant a lack of competency and aptitude necessary in the field.

"I was discouraged and I doubted whether I deserved to get a Ph.D.," she said.

Instead, she was accepted into an internship program at Harvard University.

"Over that summer, I found out that public health was actually my passion and that I did want to continue to pursue my Ph.D.," Cobb said. "The influence of that summer program really stuck with me, the type of analyses that they did, it just intrigued me. That's when I realized I wanted to do statistical public health research."

Cobb ended up receiving a yearlong research assistantship at Harvard in the epidemiology department, where she gained more experience and decided to try to re-enroll in a Ph.D. program.

"I decided not to accept that I couldn't do it," she said.

And that is where UGA came into her story. She was accepted with a full scholarship.

"I'm from Georgia and I had been up north for three years so I wanted to be closer to home," she said, "and of course UGA is one of the greatest schools in the South."

One of the important factors in her decision to come to UGA was the alignment with the statistics department and the type of research by the faculty.

"You have to make sure that a school is a good fit for you-geared toward your learning style, the type of research, and the environment you want to work in," she said.

Cobb found many positives in UGA statistics, including the faculty member who would be her advisor, a bioinformatics specialist who focuses on genetics research.

"Stacy is probably the most focused and determined of all of the Ph.D. students that I have worked with," said Paul Schliekelman, associate professor in the department of statistics at UGA. "She was the first statistician to make an in-depth analysis of genotype-by sequencing experiments, a recently developed technique that uses next-generation DNA sequencing technology for gene mapping. Her work will help genetics researchers to design their experiments so that they make the most efficient use of resources."

Cobb defended her dissertation in January and has not returned to campus since because she has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She will be back at UGA for Commencement.

"I love the type of work that I do. Right now, I'm doing public health research, coordinating with physicians such as cardiologists to answer pertinent health questions that affect communities at a global level," she said. "It will help save more lives, and my goal is to be a part of some positive change when it comes to public health."

As a member of one earliest cohorts of a women in STEM initiative, what does she think is the best way to encourage young women and people of color to pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering or mathematics?

"I think there is some intimidation of 'Oh, that's not for you' or 'You're not smart enough for that' when in actuality it's exactly what your mind is made for. So they need that confidence: You can do it just as well as anyone else," Cobb said.

— Alan Flurry, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Photo credit:[Stacy Cobb, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, defended her dissertation in January and has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She is returning to Athens Friday to receive her degree during Commencement ceremonies.] Stacy Cobb, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, defended her dissertation in January and has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She is returning to Athens Friday to receive her degree during Commencement ceremonies. (Photos by Freeman Fotographics)

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