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Member Spotlight Xiaoyi Gao

1 July 2010 One Comment

Xiaoyi Gao

I earned my PhD in bioinformatics-statistics from North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2006. Unlike most of the NCSU statistics students, I did not have any statistics or mathematics background before I started my studies in 2002. However, thanks to the rigorous statistics training I received, I am now a three-time winner of the Section on Statistics in Epidemiology’s travel award for my work in population stratification (2006) and multiple testing correction (2008) and on a theoretical proof that relates to allele sharing distance (2009). I always feel grateful for my training, without which I could never be who I am now.

I left China and came to the United States because I believed I could and should get a better education. My first year at NCSU was busy and challenging. I noticed that a lot of my classmates had much more statistics background than I did. Originally, I was seeking an MS degree in bioinformatics and had never thought about statistics. My primitive understanding of statistics was just some formulas, and I had never asked where they were from. But the bioinformatics program at NCSU is inside the department of statistics, which gave me an opportunity to make a lot of statistics friends. Most importantly, I quickly fell in love with statistics.

I spent most of my first year at NCSU making up for my lack of quantitative training. The educational environment was quite friendly, and all my friends were willing to share their statistics knowledge with me. During my second year, I started to be able to compete with my statistics classmates.

After finishing an MS degree in bioinformatics-statistics in 2003, I pursued a PhD in the same program under the direction of Bruce Weir. I was given an opportunity to independently come up with ideas for my dissertation, which was challenging. I used to joke with my friends that I had already started my post-doc training, even before I received my PhD.

To nobody’s surprise, some of my ideas crashed and burned. However, it was during this period that I found I could excel in statistical genetics and developed the ability to think independently, which was crucial for the success of my later research. The special training was rewarding. I published four first-author, peer-reviewed articles and won three ASA travel awards based on my dissertation work.

My research journey was not always smooth. I remember that tears of joy came to my eyes when my first English-language research article was accepted. It was at that moment all my hard work, frustration, and tough experiences paid off. One of my papers was rejected four times; however, it finally came out after more than two years of revisions. On one hand, the rejection was hard to swallow. But on the other hand, it made my work better. I learned to never give up.

In addition to my rigorous statistics training at NCSU, I made many friends that I continue to maintain. I also had several internship opportunities that paved the way for me to derive ideas for solving real-world problems.

After I graduated, I worked as a post-doc at Duke University Center for Human Genetics and then at the Miami Institute for Human Genetics. I am now faculty at the Washington University School of Medicine.

In my spare time, I enjoy playing with my baby daughter and watching her grow. I still remember when I was a statistics toddler. It was at NCSU that I started to walk, to run, and to jump. As I wrote in my dissertation, “I found my career, passion, and confidence at NCSU. I am proud of being one of the NCSU statistics alumni.” I am also one of you, the family of ASA.

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One Comment »

  • bioinformatics training said:

    wow this is great that having no background in the statistics or mathematic you won three award i am very surprised and i will think you will rock in future too