Home » A Statistician's Life, Celebrating Black History Month

Adrian Coles

1 February 2022 1,026 views No Comment

Affiliation: Bristol Myers Squibb
Education: BA, Math, University of North Carolina
PhD, Statistics, North Carolina State University

My journey to becoming a drug developer at Bristol Myers Squibb and leader within the ASA has been on a road less traveled, and as Robert Frost said in his famous poem, “and that has made all the difference.” 

I grew up in a socioeconomically disadvantaged community in southern Virginia. In fact, my hometown was the last capital of the confederacy. As one can imagine, this environment exemplified the racial-ethnic disparities that result from a lack of racial justice. I’ve witnessed, firsthand, many naturally gifted members of my community fall victim to institutionalized racism in one way or another. This has motivated me to work hard to increase racial-ethnic diversity within our discipline and to help create inclusive cultures characterized by social and professional equity for all. 

Math and science have always been my favorite subjects. I excelled in these areas throughout my early educational experiences, and my math skills were critical to my success during my military career, where my primary role was an electronic technician. However, my interest in statistics didn’t develop until after my military service. 

After nearly nine years of honorable military service, I was medically retired. I still had a heart to serve something much bigger than myself, so I decided to go to college to become a high-school math teacher. I took a statistics course with Susan Simmons during my senior year. I did well, and she encouraged me to consider statistics as a career. She funded a trip to a Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute event in Raleigh, North Carolina. This was my first exposure to the use of statistics to help solve a wide range of real-world problems. It was there I first experienced the broad value of statistics and fell in love with our discipline. I’m grateful for her influence and guidance. 

Throughout my journey, I have had many proud moments, from the birth of my children to earning my PhD in statistics from North Carolina State University with the distinction of being the first African American male to earn the degree from the time-honored department. However, my proudest moment is graduating from Marine Corps boot camp and earning the title US Marine.

My time in the Marine Corps was transformative. Those experiences taught me the value of serving purposes bigger than myself. They provided me with enduring perspectives on accountability, team work, integrity, urgency, mission accomplishment, and leadership that serve me well as an associate director of biostatistics at Bristol Myers Squibb, chair of the ASA’s Committee on Minorities in Statistics, and cochair of the ASA’s Antiracism Task Force. 

Thank you to the ASA for creating opportunities for passionate professionals, like me, to serve. And thank you to those who have peer-coached, mentored, and/or sponsored me on my journey. 

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