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Tanya Garcia

1 September 2020 2,252 views No Comment

Affiliation: Department of Biostatistics, Gillings School of Public Health, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Educational Background: PhD, Statistics, Texas A&M University; MS, Statistics, University of Western Ontario; MS, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, University of California, Berkeley; BS, Mathematics, University of California, Irvine

Born in Lima, Peru, and raised in San Jose, California, Tanya Garcia fondly remembers spending her days as a 4-year-old craftily fitting together the pieces of jigsaw puzzles. Years later, in university, puzzles took a new shape and her enthusiasm for solving mathematical and statistical problems blossomed.

Garcia was required to take an advanced statistics and probability course as an undergraduate at the University of California at Irvine. Having never studied basic statistics nor basic probability, she immediately felt nervous about it. But not wanting to fail the course, she decided to study the material whole-heartedly. Instead of sitting shyly in lectures, she began to actively participate, several times suggesting nonsensible solutions to questions posed, but learning more each time. Her curiosity for the subject escalated; for every problem presented, she questioned each assumption and result. Soon, her dedication to the topic changed from one of only earning an A to a genuine desire to understand the material.

Once, while making the 20-minute drive home from Irvine to Costa Mesa, Garcia began thinking about how to model and analyze the infection rate of a disease among a population. Intrigued and determined to find a solution, she became so focused she accidentally drove two hours to Los Angeles! Her excitement about solving the problem, however, overshadowed her frustration about LA traffic. At that moment, she knew she had found a subject she truly loved.

Garcia pursued theoretical and applied statistical training at Texas A&M University and discovered a genuine excitement for neurodegenerative disease research when her PhD adviser, Yanyuan Ma, invited her to collaborate with Karen Marder and Yuanjia Wang at Columbia University in analyzing longitudinal and survival data for Huntington’s disease. This collaboration fueled Garcia’s interest in dedicating her tenure-track career to develop new statistical methods that solve important neuroscience problems. Highlights of her work include a new statistical framework to identify biological factors linked to neurodegeneration and a predictive model that more precisely estimates the trajectory of multiple disease outcomes. Her work is published in top journals such as JASA, Annals of Applied Statistics, Bioinformatics, and Biostatistics. Her work has achieved more than $900,000 in competitive grants, fellowships, and awards, including from the Huntington’s Disease Society of America Human Biology Project Fellowship and the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Garcia began her tenure-track career at Texas A&M School of Public Health, then became a tenured associate professor of statistics at Texas A&M University, and recently joined the department of biostatistics at the Gillings School of Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill as a tenured associate professor. She is excited to build a new research group at UNC Chapel Hill, working toward predicting precise, personalized, and robust progression profiles for neurodegenerative diseases. She enjoys nurturing young talent, advising student groups that foster scientific careers, and participating in national conferences to raise awareness and promote scholarly work in diverse groups.

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