Jul. 20 2018

A Big Moment for Biostatistics Leadership

In a move that signals a growing awareness of the importance of data science to public health, F. DuBois Bowman, PhD, the Cynthia and Robert Citrone-Roslyn and Leslie Goldstein Professor and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, has been appointed to be the next dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Bowman is a renowned expert in the statistical analysis of brain imaging data and other complex data. His work has had important implications for understanding the biology of mental and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. 

“Biostatistics has flourished under the leadership of Dr. Bowman, and we are proud of his leadership, accomplishments, and our role in his journey,” says Dean Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH. “Under Dr. Bowman and exceptional faculty, we have developed strong and unique capabilities in cutting edge, 21st century public health methods and analytics.”

Since Dr. Bowman joined as Chair in 2014, the Biostatistics Department has strengthened its high-quality educational programs and innovative research enterprise, undertaken dozens of interdisciplinary research collaborations, and led advances in the use of sensor data, brain imaging, clinical trials, and mobile health applications. 

“I’m grateful to all the faculty, staff, and students I’ve had the honor of working with over the years,” says Bowman. “I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished together to contribute to the success of the Department of Biostatistics and to the field.”

The move to Michigan is a personal homecoming for Bowman, who grew up in Ann Arbor and earned his MS in Biostatistics at the University of Michigan, where both of his parents have held various faculty, staff, and administrative roles. Prior to joining our School, Bowman was a tenured professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics. He also founded and directed the Center for Biomedical Imaging Statistics at the Rollins School. 

In his own research, Bowman has shed light on the innerworkings of the human brain by developing novel ways to analyze neuroimaging data. Methodology he developed revealed how our brains enlist spatially distinct areas on a common task and can rewire itself to regain lost function. These insights were taken further in a study of Parkinson’s disease, for which Bowman served as principal investigator. He and his team mined a massive number of imaging measures to identify markers of disease, which may manifest early in the disease process or signal the likelihood of progression.

Bowman discovered biostatistics as an undergraduate at Morehouse College, analyzing the effect of psychosocial stress on hypertension in African-American males. “It was a magical moment,” he says, “for me to find an area where I could use my quantitative abilities to impact health.”

Throughout his career, as a graduate student, faculty member, and chair, he has sought to increase diversity in the fields of public health, biostatistics, math, and in research careers more broadly—work that he plans to continue in his new role. “When I started out, I could count on one hand the number of underrepresented minority faculty in biostatistics,” he says. He currently leads two National Institutes of Health pipeline training programs for underrepresented minority students at Columbia: the Biostatistics Epidemiology Summer Training (BEST) program for college students and the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development for doctoral students.

Under Bowman’s tenure at the Mailman School, the Department of Biostatistics expanded its graduate programs, launching a new two-year MPH program and growing the number of PhD students by nearly a third. Biostatistics students are employed at impressive rates, with 100 percent, 99 percent, and 98 percent job placement (within six months of graduation) in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively. In 2016, Forbes ranked biostatistics as the top master’s degree in the United States for earning potential and job satisfaction. “In recent years we’ve seen a growing recognition of the possibilities of data science to make a real difference in people’s lives by improving their health,” says Bowman. “It’s exciting to see the field of biostatistics rise to a new level.”

Bowman has also taken an active role in raising the profile of data science, serving on Columbia University data science efforts, including on the executive committee of the Columbia University Data Science Institute, the Data and Society Taskforce, and the Columbia University Precision Medicine Taskforce, led by President Lee Bollinger.

“I am confident that our Department and the field of Biostatistics will only increase in stature and grow, as methods and data analytics continue to transform public health research and practice,” says Dean Fried. “We wish Dr. Bowman all the best in his new role at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.”