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NSF and Eli Lilly Partnering on Internship Program

1 October 2013 421 views No Comment
Wei Shen, Eli Lilly and Company

    The Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Global Statistical Sciences (GSS) at Eli Lilly and Company have joined forces to establish an internship program. The 12-week summer program offers an opportunity for NSF’s graduate research fellows in statistics or related fields to gain research and real-world experience at Lilly.

    The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. In 2012, the GRFP awarded 2,000 fellowships; 75 of those were to students in mathematics and statistics. Sastry Pantula, former division director of DMS at NSF, stated, “GRFP is a great program that supports outstanding graduate students in this country. The NSF-Lilly internship program provides much-needed broadening experience for these students. Mentoring, communication and presentation skills, working in teams, solving important practical problems, and computational skills are just a few of the benefits from such a program that our graduates gain. These skills are very useful, regardless of whether the graduate fellows decide to choose an academic career or a career in industry or government.”

    Lilly, a leading innovation-driven corporation, employs many statisticians with advanced degrees. They are involved in every aspect of drug development, from drug discovery to product commercialization. Aarti Shah, vice president of biometrics and advanced analytics at Lilly, stated, “Statistical thinking plays a critical role in the entire value chain of drug development. There are abundant opportunities for applications of cutting-edge statistical research and methods to drug development and commercialization at Lilly. We are grateful for the partnership with NSF and welcome some of the nation’s best graduate students to join our internship program.”

    Under the partnership, a number of intern positions at Lilly were set aside for NSF graduate fellows. The successful candidates were assigned to specific projects under the guidance of Lilly statisticians.

    This year, two NSF fellows, Scott Powers from The University of Chicago and Corinne Horn from Stanford University, joined the NSF-Lilly internship program and spent 12 weeks at Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Powers conducted his research on “commensurate prior approach for borrowing historical control data,” aiming to improve efficiency of clinical trial design, while Horn explored text mining methods for the analysis of electronic medical records from a large health care database.

    NSF and Lilly plan to continue the intern program. Pantula stated, “I look forward to seeing this program (maybe named iGO – industrial Graduate Opportunities) grow significantly and hope other industry and federal agencies follow this lead. I appreciate the initiative by Wei Shen and Aarti Shah at Lilly and Jim Lightbourne, director of graduate education at NSF, to jump start this program.” Pantula also encourages students to submit their applications to the NSF GRFP program. “I strongly believe that there are many more well-qualified U.S. graduate students in mathematical and statistical sciences than the number of applications NSF receives.”

    Additional information regarding the NSF-Lilly internship program can be obtained by contacting Wei Shen at shen@lilly.com, or Jennifer Pearl at jslimowi@nsf.gov.

    The application deadline for the GRFP is November 5. To apply, visit the GRFP website.

    NSF-Lilly Internship: A Student’s Experience

    Scott Powers, The University of Chicago

    When Lilly offered me this 12-week internship, I did not think I would accept the offer. That sounds like a silly thing to say; hundreds of statistics PhD students apply each year to spend the summer here, and only a few actually get to do so (although the applicant pool for my program in partnership with the National Science Foundation was much smaller). But as I aspire to an academic career, it is difficult to skip a summer of research at my own university.

    Ultimately, I decided to take the internship, and it was the right decision. What changed my mind was learning about how Lilly’s researchers frequently collaborate with academic researchers. I realized that the summer would not be a setback for me academically, because there would be the potential to publish the results from my work, and I could explore a new area of research. In the meantime, I could get some exposure to working in industry, which would be valuable for future career decisions.

    When I began work at Lilly, I was surprised by how much I felt like I was on a college campus. Lilly Corporate Center, as it is called, is not just one big office, but rather a collection of diversified buildings punctuated by charming greenery and a pond. The campus even has a track encircling a well-maintained soccer field, next to the gym. In my first two weeks here, I played intramural softball, sand volleyball, and flag football, meeting dozens of friendly employees.

    The work, too, felt a lot like being a graduate student. My supervisors (Karen Price and Baoguang Han) had planned out a project for me, and I spent my time here much as I spend my time at school: reading academic papers, applying novel methods to interesting data sets, and discussing the results with my supervisors. I developed new skills along the way, learning how to run Gibbs samplers using WinBUGS and JAGS software and submitting hundreds of thousands of hours of computation to the company’s cluster.

    One way in which this company differs from a university is the extensive, but accessible, network of Lilly employees. On day one, I told a colleague I play club volleyball in school, and, on day two, I met one of the best sand volleyball players in Indianapolis—he works on the business side of the company. In all, I met individually with about 20 Lilly scientists, and talking with them gave me perspective that motivates me as I push forward to my dissertation.

    My experience this summer was valuable as an exposure to something new, and I would not have thought to seek it out if not for the partnership between Lilly and the NSF. Opportunities such as access to this internship are the true value of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, beyond the obvious benefits of stipend and tuition assistance. Any eligible student would be remiss not to submit the free application for the fellowship, especially as it prepares the student for departmental applications.

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