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Rising Star Talks About Statistics Journey, Future of the Profession

1 September 2018 1,650 views No Comment

Amanda Malloy, ASA Director of Development

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Lucy D’Agostino McGowan, a rising star in the statistics and data science community. Lucy didn’t start out on the statistics track, even though it is in her blood—both her father and grandfather are in the statistics field and the ASA community has been part of her life for as long as she can remember. “I grew up with JSM as my family vacation each year,” said Lucy.

Lucy D'Agostino McGowan

Lucy D’Agostino McGowan

Lucy completed a dual undergraduate degree in religious and romance language studies with a concentration in Italian. It wasn’t until she participated in Boston University’s Summer Institute for Research Education in Biostatistics (SIBS) that her interest in the field piqued and she went on to earn a PhD in biostatistics.

Throughout her journey, the ASA community has been an asset for Lucy, inspiring and shaping her as a student and now a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins. When asked about who her heroes are, Lucy responded:

Three women who immediately come to mind are Lisa LaVange, Liz Stuart, and Francesca Dominici. They are all incredibly brilliant statisticians and powerful thought leaders in our field. Of course, my heroes also include my father and grandfather, who both inspired my entry into statistics and biostatistics. They are both extremely hard working, excellent communicators and kind and loving people—all qualities I hope to emulate as I pursue this area of work.

Looking into the future of statistics, Lucy says:

I believe we are moving into an age of information overload, which has three consequences for statisticians. The first consequence is thrilling. When I read about a study now, I want to know exactly where the data came from, how it was collected, and how it was analyzed. Often, if it’s something I think is important to me, I want to be able to reproduce the result. Because we can share information so easily now, there is a craving for even more information, even though we’re in this space of information overload. This collaboration and eagerness to learn leads to awesome innovations and has been speeding up the rate of advances. For statisticians, this means we are being pushed to innovate and develop best practices for reproducibility. This age of innovation is so exciting and such a great opportunity for us as statisticians.

The second consequence is, with all this information and data, there are constantly new opportunities for developing innovative statistical methods, particularly in the observational research space. Much of the data constantly streaming in are observational by nature and therefore subjected to biases such as selection bias and unmeasured confounding. This is a rich area of statistical methodology, and I believe it is only getting better as we are forced to develop better methods that are scalable to these large data sets.

The third consequence of this information overload is that it can be difficult for the public, or even for data-savvy people, to sift through the signal and noise. I think this means we need to really brush up on our communication skills. We need to be able to adequately distill complex ideas into digestible sound bites. There is a really important balance when doing this between watering down a result and overloading the public with unnecessary information, and as statisticians, this is really the tightrope we are walking now. I think we need to learn the best ways to communicate ideas that are both true and correct, but also condensed and understandable. We have a lot of resources for learning how to utilize a complex statistical method, but we need to be sure to also emphasize the importance of being able to actually explain these methods in a way that people can actually use.

Cultivating Future Statisticians on ASA Giving Day

Eager to get involved and become part of the statistics community, Lucy co-founded the Vanderbilt ASA Student Chapter. “Vanderbilt was a relatively new biostatistics program (at that point in its fifth year), so we were looking for ways to get involved in the wider statistics community,” said Lucy.

“Fostering relationships is so important to me,” she continued. “There is so much we can learn from each other, and this seemed like a great way to dive in and gain access to the brilliant minds involved with the ASA.”

Thanks to the Caucus for Women in Statistics Travel Award, Lucy also attended the ASA Women in Statistics and Data Science conference and participated in a panel of R-Ladies who were discussing improving gender diversity in a male-dominated field. “I love this conference so much and was so grateful to be able to attend,” said Lucy.

It is so important to cultivate future statisticians like Lucy. You can do that on ASA Giving Day, October 19, when we come together, learn what’s being done, and support the future of statistics and data science. Money raised on ASA Giving Day will go to support early-career statisticians, like Lucy, and encourage talented young people to pursue careers in statistics and data science.

Find out more about ASA Giving Day and sign up for a reminder to give.

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