Could you give a little background information about yourself?
I did my undergrad in China at the University of Science and Technology of China but my degree was in information management and decision theory. When I came to the United States, I changed my major to statistics because I wanted to do something that can connect application with theory. I think that statistics is such a field.
I got my Ph.D. in statistics at Cornell University in 2004. Then I got my first job and tenure at the Department of Statistics, University of Missouri. I was happy there but my family situation changed: my husband got a job on the east coast and I just had a baby. I took family leave for a year after my maternity leave so that the whole family could be together. I like the central location of Delaware and a friend who lived nearby informed me of the job opportunity at my current department. So I applied and got the job.
What are you teaching at UD? Is your role more teaching or research?
My position is tenure track and my title is Assistant Professor. So I will be going through the tenure process for a second time. My position is 60 percent research and 40 percent teaching. I taught survival analysis last semester and I am teaching biostatistics this semester. Next semester, I will be teaching advanced designed experiment, which will mostly cover a very useful class of statistical models—mixed effects models.
My research interest lies in statistical modeling of genomics data. I have two recent publications: one is about Bayesian modeling of DNA methylation data, published in BMC Bioinformatics, and the second paper, which is published in Statistical Applications in Genetics and Molecular Biology, is discussing some problems in current practice of modeling RNA-seq data. I am still working with one of my former colleagues at Missouri and her Ph.D. students on Bayesian modelling of genomics data.
When I was at Missouri, my position was a joint position in that I also provided statistical consulting to the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources there.
I enjoy working with biologists on their real data and often this motivates my statistical research work to improve the current methods of analyzing genomics data.
Even though I don’t have consulting component for my current job, I am still interested in exploring interdisciplinary collaboration across the college or campus. Last semester, I had assisted a postdoc of Dr. Pam Green in plant science on analyzing their degradome sequencing data (also called PARE data). The results are promising. We are hoping to collaborate on a paper together.
What’s been your impression of the Department and the College as a whole?
The Department has been very friendly. I am very impressed with the internship opportunities our master’s students can get here. Before I applied to the job here, I had heard good things about the department in that they place their masters’ students well in the market.
Now being here as a faculty, I realize that there is a good reason that our MS program runs well. Our graduate curriculum is very practical and provides solid trainings for our students. Also the department has built good relationships with local companies such as DuPont and Chase over the years. Our department chair Dr. Thomas Ilvento has done a great job in this regard.
I am glad that now I can play a role in supervising Masters’ students and teaching graduate courses as well.
I also helped to set up the department statistics seminar. I think seminars are an important component of a department’s scholarly activities. It provides an opportunity for research faculty to exchange research ideas and also helps the students to learn about the active research topics that statisticians are working on.
The college has kindly provided a faculty mentoring series to new faculty members to get us oriented. This is very helpful.
Could you speak to the importance of interdisciplinary research?
I think these days, scientists are producing a lot of high dimensional data, which definitely require sophisticated methods to analyze them. Many scientists, although are very good in their science work, don’t necessarily have enough training in analyzing large data sets. Although some information can be drawn using simple methods, a lot more information can be explored if well-trained statisticians are also involved in the data analysis.
I just went to a bioinformatics conference in San Francisco in January. A lot of statisticians, computer scientists and biologists came to attend the same conference because they know they need each other.
Anything I haven’t asked that you want to make sure gets included?
I am also an affiliated faculty in the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) in the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI). Last semester, several Ph.D. students in the bioinformatics program consulted with me on their Ph.D. projects including Dr. Cathy Wu’s lab.
Any interesting hobbies that you have outside of class?
I like music, gardening and hiking. I like to be close to the nature. There is a lot of things I can take my kid to do here in Delaware: go to beach in the south, watch the snow geese in middle creek, PA, dolphin watch in Cape May. Botanic garden and zoos are fun places to visit too.
I also participate in a voluntary Bible education work and as a beneficiary of the bible education myself, it is rewarding to see how the Bible can help others to improve their lives and give them hope and comfort at the time of distress.
Article by Adam Thomas