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Graduating students

Creating Applied Biostatistics Opportunities for Underrepresented Students and Graduates

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The Center for Innovative Design and Analysis (CIDA) prides itself on being at the front lines of innovation and inclusivity. In addition to advancements in statistical analysis, design, and data science, CIDA has also taken measures to create a more diverse presence on the campus. With the formation of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee in 2020, one of the committee’s objectives was to reach out to students outside of the biostatistics programs and create opportunities for them to learn and work with data.

CIDA’s Associate Director, Mary Sammel, ScD, launched this initiative to hire a student assistant. As part of the DEI committee’s mission to expand CIDA’s diversity and inclusion, the student assistant position was created for both graduate MPH and undergraduate BS students with a foundation in statistics and/or science and the interest to learn more about what a professional biostatistician does. The student assistant position differs from the graduate research assistant position that we offer to students within the biostatistics and informatics program. This assistant position is entry level with the intent to train and educate students on programming, basic data analysis, and biostatistics with the hope that it may inspire these students to enter the biostatistics program and/or pursue a career in biostatistics.

In spring of 2021, Daniel Casillas, CU Denver undergraduate, was the first student assistant that CIDA hired. Daniel is the first in his family to attend college and is driven to apply to medical school. His interest with this student assistant position with the CIDA was to learn more about the role a biostatistician plays in medical research and clinical trials. “I chose to participate in the program offered by the CIDA Team because I knew I wanted to venture into the world of biostatistics and observe my knowledge of various STEM fields through the lens of statistical analysis. I have learned more than I expected since I was a part of not only the internship with CIDA, but also participated in CoSIBS 2021 which was an outstanding experience.”

While Daniel will not be pursuing a career in biostatistics at this time, he found the experience valuable and developed a new understanding on the complexities of a biostatistician’s work. “At first, I was mesmerized and daunted by abilities that biostatisticians exemplified in their positions. After developing long-lasting relationships with the faculty and staff within the CIDA Team, I was astounded by their backgrounds…The experience I had with CIDA was life-changing… and [I] hope to incorporate biostatistics in my future career as a health policy advocate.”

Over the summer of 2021, CIDA sought to expand the student assistantship program to other students and programs. CIDA brought on a summer student assistant, Bethelhem Shiferaw (Betty), a recent graduate of the MPH program. “This position has allowed me to learn advanced hands-on statistical programming and reproducible research skills as well as [apply]... data management and analysis skills while connecting with a broad array of public health fields.  Overall, this position has helped me solidify my confidence as an early graduate Biostatistician that is beneficial for my future career.” After her summer assistantship, Betty accepted a temporary position as a Data Manager with CIDA where she could apply what she learned from the assistantship in a professional capacity as a recent graduate.

Betty’s experience with CIDA’s student assistant program was so successful that she is looking to apply for a full-time position with CIDA. “I definitely recommend that students and early graduates apply to any opportunities offered by CIDA. As I mentioned earlier, the position will offer the opportunity to apply materials learned in the MPH program to real-life complex data and research. I am a firm believer that practicing advances experience so if there are students or early graduates interested in working with complex data work and learning new methods, I highly encourage them to look into the program.”

With these first two success stories as support for the initiative, CIDA is continuing to create more student assistant positions underrepresented in biostatistics and data science by supporting individuals looking to expand their understanding of biostatistics and receive hands-on experience that will benefit them whether their future career is in biostatistics, data science, public health or the medical sciences.