As I write during this momentous year of the Columbia Mailman School’s centennial celebration, I am reflecting on the resilience that the Department of Biostatistics, the entire Columbia University community and the City of New York have shown as they handled the extraordinary challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. By any measure, these past several months have been unprecedented in the disruptions faced by our School and University community and, indeed, the very fabric of our global society.
Our department has continued to advance its research and education mission in the face of the pandemic. We are pleased that our educational programs and operations are now back in-person after moving to fully online in March 2020; it’s a pleasure to see our students and colleagues again on campus. Thanks to our dedicated faculty, staff and students, we maintained the high quality of our teaching programs during our fully remote period; kept our community connected through virtual innovations; continued our research programs; and completed several semesters successfully with two online Commencement celebrations of graduating students.
We have continued to excel in publishing cutting-edge research on both methodologic and collaborative areas, and in securing grants in this very competitive environment. Our faculty has contributed significantly to COVID-19 knowledge through design and analysis of related trials, including the creation of innovative dashboards that provide readily digestible information about the distribution and trends of the pandemic. And we have made significant strides to become a force in public health data science, strengthening our connections with the Columbia Data Science Institute and leading high-level discussions at the school’s inaugural Public Health Data Science Summit in January 2020, which was a great success. We are now in the process of organizing a follow-up summit on health data science as part of our centennial celebrations.
On the educational side, the need for online instruction has led to many innovations that will inform the future of our teaching approaches. The department has expanded its operations on several fronts by (i) launching its new MS track in Public Health Data Science with an inaugural cohort this Fall; (ii) renaming the MPH certificate as “Applied Biostatistics and Public Health Data Science”; and (iii) continuing to improve our course offerings via new courses and curriculum enhancements. We have also taken data science education to the global level, and have been awarded a new highly competitive training grant, Advancing Public Health Research in Eastern Africa through Data Science Training (APHREA-DST), via NIH’s Data Science Initiative (DS-I) for Africa. Our Biostatistics and Epidemiology Summer Training (BEST) program for undergraduate students from underrepresented groups has continued its pioneering tradition by hosting 25 talented students from across the nation in summer 2021 using a completely virtual platform – a first for the program.
We have also undergone a strategic planning process to maintain our areas of strength and to chart new directions. Strategic planning led to an expanded leadership structure with a new Vice Chair for Education, Dr. Todd Ogden, and a new Vice Chair for Research, Dr. Ying Wei. Looking ahead, the department will continue to take significant bold steps towards asserting leadership in public health data science at Columbia and beyond through strategically enhanced educational programs and partnerships - to chart new directions for inter-disciplinary team science.
Our department is lucky to have the support of a strong and vibrant alumni base and generous donors as we strive for excellence across all aspects of our mission. I am very grateful to the many devoted and passionate supporters of our mission – including the Sanford Bolton Estate, the family of Roslyn and Leslie Goldstein and the family of Cynthia and Robert Citron.
During this challenging time, we remain committed to the highest quality training for our students, and we cherish the opportunity to be part of your academic and professional journey. For our alumni, I invite all of you to remain engaged with the department. We hope to have the privilege of hosting you as visitors (virtually or otherwise) to share your knowledge and wisdom and, hopefully, as potential collaborators or new colleagues.
Stay safe and healthy!