Home » A Statistician's Life, Celebrating Women in Statistics

Madhumita (Bonnie) Ghosh-Dastidar

1 March 2019 1,919 views No Comment

Senior Statistician, RAND Corporation

Educational Background:
BS, Computer Science and Mathematics
MA and PhD, Statistics, Penn State

About Bonnie
I was born and raised in Kolkata, India, where I completed my schooling (classes I to XII). In my final year of high school, I took the SAT and applied to colleges in the United States. I moved to the US for undergraduate studies.

I always enjoyed numbers and, as a child, I could do computations with four- or five-digit numbers in my head. My family called me a “human calculator.” My maternal grandmother had also earned a bachelor’s in mathematics in the 1920s, so perhaps I inherited her abilities.

My school in Kolkata was highly competitive, and I didn’t think I was very good in mathematics. So, I took the competitive joint entrance examinations and was accepted to medical and engineering schools. I simultaneously applied to US colleges to study computer science because my father saw it was the “future!” Computer science was still a nascent field in India and seats were competitive.

In the US, I found college courses in mathematics easy. So, I took more of them. Eventually, a woman professor at Albright encouraged me to take advanced mathematics classes and pursue a graduate degree. Next, I applied and interviewed for a few PhD mathematics programs but felt like a misfit. Through the interview process, I realized I really wanted to do applied work involving collaborations and human contact. Thus, I ended up in statistics. Penn State was a strong program with many options (e.g., environmental statistics, biostatistics, and multivariate statistics with C.R. Rao). So, I went to Penn State.

Personally, one great achievement has been to be able to work at the intersection of statistics and public policy, which has allowed me to work on a range of interesting studies. Over the past eight years, I’ve been looking into the problem of “food deserts” and health. The US obesity epidemic presents a serious health crisis and disproportionately affects food deserts, in which processed foods are often more common than fresh produce. In response, stakeholders have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into bringing supermarkets to these areas. My colleagues and I have been conducting rigorous evaluations of such initiatives.

For example, I have led the design of a series of natural experiments and analysis of detailed assessments to evaluate the impact of opening a supermarket on diet and health outcomes. My first-authored article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine is listed on the journal’s website as one of the most downloaded papers. The study’s findings have also been published in Health Affairs and Public Health Nutrition; disseminated through newspapers (Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) and magazines (TIME, The Atlantic); and briefed to community stakeholders and policymakers.

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