In the field of biostatistics, we deal with issues around equality in many aspects of our work. We are constantly working towards equality, from adjusting for racial disparities in an observational data set to encouraging traditionally underrepresented minorities to pursue biostatistics and mathematics as careers.
I have become passionate about learning and incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) concepts into other aspects of my life. I have served on both the School of Public Health school-wide DEI committee as well as the department Biostatistics DEI committee. I wrote a successful application for the student and faculty Diversity Allies Grants, along with the chair of the Biostatistics DEI committee and another student. My main role in preparing the grant was writing the activities we planned to fund and revisions.
Through this grant, we funded a retreat for PhD students featuring team building and professional development. The overall goal of this retreat was to foster community among PhD students who may not feel connected to their peers. I worked to find speakers and plan the event which took place in June 2019. The PhD retreat is now an annual event due to the success and positive feedback we received. Through the Diversity Allies Grant, we also funded a seminar series focusing on the role of statistics in DEI research. I have been part of planning and organizing these seminars. I also presented for the inaugural seminar. In this seminar, I discussed issues such as institutional racism in observational data and how statisticians can handle and discuss this form of bias. This led to an open discussion about biases in different types of data and has motivated at least one new large-scale project.
Since these events, students have more resources to comfortably engage with each other and new faculty collaborations formed within the department working on groundbreaking research. When students can more easily make connections across perceived barriers and faculty have support for promoting collaboration, better work gets done.
In my own research, I have seen how statistics can influence treatment decisions and guide research to address racial inequalities. In my collaborative research, I worked on a project utilizing multiple data sources to analyze racial inequality. We compared prostate cancer outcomes in Black and White men. The prevailing belief has been that Black men have worse prostate cancer outcomes regardless of stage of disease and treatment. We saw this hold true when using a large cancer population registry database.
Previous analyses have led to the hypothesis that Black men have biological factors that cause more aggressive disease than what is seen in White men. However, when we examined men enrolled in an RCT, where the men received more equal care, the racial differences in prostate cancer outcomes vanished, suggesting that this racial difference in prostate cancer outcomes is not due to biological factors. These differences may instead be due to unmeasurable effects of institutional racism and other forms of racial inequality. The ability to quantify a nebulous concept like institutional racism is both exciting and groundbreaking.This study, published in JAMA Oncology, has prompted discussions about how to best address racial disparities in health care and shines a light on how statistics can be (mis)used and give spurious results.
I believe in statistics. We have the mathematical tools to unveil patterns and use this knowledge to improve our world. By developing methodology to handle to increasingly complex data and by collaborating with researchers in other fields, we are able to change lives. Whether it be designing a clinical trial for medication for a rare disease, or by examining the social structures in society effecting millions of lives, statistics is a powerful tool to revolutionize how we live. I am grateful to be a part of this field and I aim to contribute meaningfully both while I am a graduate student and in my post-graduate career. Through my DEI work and my research, I hope to lead the field in new ways and have a positive impact on the world.