Department of Biostatistics Highlights Student Research Projects

April 19, 2021

Last week, the Department of Biostatistics hosted an online event that showcased research projects of master’s students in the Columbia Mailman School Class of 2021. The virtual poster session featured close to 100 projects on a wide assortment of topics from medical cannabis to climate change to COVID-19. Each was undertaken as part of their practicum experiences—public health internships completed by master’s students in all six of the Schoool’s academic departments.

In opening remarks, Kiros Berhane, chair of Biostatistics, underlined the value of the practicum experience. “Practicum projects provide opportunities for immersion in real biomedical data analysis and multidisciplinary research,” he said. The Friday virtual poster session demonstrated the “quality of research output by talented students and their dedicated mentors across a wide range of topics, with immersion in data from across Columbia and beyond,” he added.

In a keynote speech, Elizabeth J. Wang, MS ’12, offered advice on choosing a career path: “Love what you do for a living.” Since graduating, Wang has provided statistical expertise to several companies, from Coca-Cola to Synchrony, a financial services company. Currently, she is a senior consultant and manager of statistical methodology at IQVIA, a healthcare consulting company. Wang said she still sometimes refers back to her classwork when tackling a project for a client. No matter if you’re in school or on the job, taking good notes is crucial. “Make sure you have good documentation skills,” she said.

Among research topics covered by students were the connection between sleep patterns and eating behavior (Si Li); the relationship between socioeconomic factors and life expectancy in different countries (Yingxi Ji); the impact of a women-centered food program on women’s empowerment and nutrition in rural Cambodia (Jessie Wang); how water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) influence stunting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Yuao Yang); the combined effect of temperature and ozone on mortality; and a method to model the use of medical cannabis among people with musculoskeletal illness (Guangling Xu).

By far the most popular topic was COVID-19.

In all, 20 students presented on aspects of the pandemic. Among them were Wang-Chia Ko, who reported on the psychological impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers; Gaotong Liu, who helped develop an online interactive Demographics by State COVID-19 Reporting (DSCovR) Dashboard; Yuchen Qi, who examined the impact of public health mandates on rates of influenza; Amy Sullivan, who examined the impact of state reopening plans on rates of infection, hospitalization, and death; and Haoyan Tong, who studied the relationship between perception of risk and behavior change in Malawi.