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

Sharina D. Person

1 February 2022 918 views 4 Comments

Affiliation: Professor and Marcellette G. Williams Scholar, University of Massachusetts Medical School
Education: BS, Mathematics and Physics
MS and PhD, Biostatistics, University of Alabama, Birmingham

Society’s expectations for my success were exceedingly low as an African American woman born and raised in Gary, Indiana. The community included both the personal (racial minority, low-education) and neighborhood (high poverty, high crime) characteristics that have been shown to bear a disproportionate burden of disease, poorer health outcomes, and lower likelihood of success in general.

My parents did not attended college, but strongly believed a college education was the key to success. Because of my love for math and natural ability in the subject, I became a math major in college. I enjoyed the classwork and challenges of learning, but I wanted to have a more significant impact on society than I could achieve through teaching college mathematics alone. There had to be a career that wouldn’t cause me to abandon my foundation in math and would allow me to impact my community. A chance encounter with a classmate’s father, a biostatistics professor, opened my eyes to a field I never knew existed and ignited the spark that ultimately became my passion.

For the last 20 years, I have enjoyed a career that has allowed me to bring my mathematical training to bear on understanding and addressing multifaceted health problems and to lead and collaborate in research that directly affects the lives and well-being of society, in particular population health and health equity. I have had the opportunity to play a leading role in designing intervention studies and analyzing data to understand and dismantle the root causes of health inequity—an area I hold dear. My stature as a well-regarded biostatistician has afforded me the opportunity to assume leadership roles in statistics and administration both in my institution and nationally.

As I reflect on my career and the moments that brought me the most pride, I could focus on my family’s joy when I earned my degree or even the first time a professor who told me I would not succeed past the master’s level had to refer to me as Dr. Person. Instead, I believe my proudest moments are when I see the light bulb come on in a student, mentee, or colleague’s eyes when I’ve been able to explain a difficult statistical concept in a manner they can comprehend. I take it as a personal challenge to change the mind of that person who “hates statistics.” The ability to elevate the perception of statistics while doing something meaningful that I love always brings me joy.

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  • Sandra Reese said:

    Congratulations Dr. Person well deserved!!

  • Barbara Olendzki said:

    Dr. Person is an incredibly inspiring individual, whom I’ve had the honor of working with. She is not only a great biostatistician, but a teacher of life. Congratulations!

  • Alice Min said:

    Congratulations Dr.Person! So proud of you!!

  • Dr. Tonya Smoot said:

    So very proud of you!