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Neal Jeffries

1 February 2020 2,151 views No Comment

Neal Jeffries

Affiliation: Mathematical Statistician, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health
Educational Background: PhD, Mathematical Statistics, University of Maryland College Park; MPA, Public Affairs, Princeton University; BA, Applied Mathematics, University of California, Berkeley; BA, Economics, Pomona College

Neal Jeffries’s path to a career in biostatistics was indirect. Although the son of a high-school math teacher (or perhaps because he was the son of a math teacher), Jeffries studied only enough mathematics to earn a degree in economics. However, while subsequently working and studying as a policy analyst, he realized statistical sophistication is necessary to critically evaluate the data that provides the basis for sound public policy. This understanding led Jeffries to want more formal math and statistical education, and he was fortunate to find a one-year program at the University of California, Berkeley that gave him a second bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics. When he finished that program, Jeffries had developed an interest in math and statistics for its own sake and pursued graduate study in statistics at the University of Maryland, where he was advised by Benjamin Kedem and Eric Slud. Toward the end of his graduate studies, Slud referred Jeffries to a colleague at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who provided an early career position.

Jeffries’s first 10 years at NIH were within the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, where he was helped by James Dambrosia, biometry chief, in finding a mixture of methodological work and areas of application. Jeffries worked on theory regarding mixture models and applied work toward modeling brain growth patterns for children with early onset schizophrenia, as well as clinical trials and epidemiological studies of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological disorders. In addition, he learned the basics of genetics and proteomics and developed methodology addressing multiplicity in some of the different manifestations commonly accompanying these studies.

Jeffries later transitioned to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, with biostatistical leadership and mentoring provided by Nancy Geller. There, he worked primarily on clinical trials involving heart diseases and pursued methodological work including trials with longitudinally collected data and group sequential evaluation. An applied area of recent interest to Jeffries involves advances in treating sickle cell anemia by expanding the pool of those who can receive curative stem cell transplants and developing new avenues of therapy.

At NIH, Jeffries has enjoyed working both as a primary data analyst for intramural studies with NIH collaborators and serving in a monitoring position for extramural studies. NIH has provided him latitude in choosing areas in which to work but without the grant writing duties common in academia.

Jeffries considers himself fortunate to know a number of statisticians of color and is pleased to see the number of statisticians of color in the profession increase, albeit slowly. Many of these interactions have come through his work with the ASA Committee on Minorities in Statistics. The committee provides opportunities for people interested in mentoring and/or being mentored and generally supports expanding the professional community.

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