A promising start for StatNorthwest, a biostatistics conference for underrepresented students

May 16, 2018

About 20 students from the UW Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma campuses attended StatNorthwest, a free half-day conference designed to introduce students from historically underrepresented groups to career and advanced degree options in statistics and biostatistics. This first-time event was organized by the Biostatistics Diversity Committee and featured a graduate student panel as well as a career panel with representatives from University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Research Center, NanoString Technologies, Inc., and Amazon. 

Assistant biostatistics professor and committee member Noah Simon rated the event a success and provided the following insights:

What did you hope to accomplish with this event?

We hoped to expose students to biostatistics earlier in their academic careers, and to generate interest among quantitative students in pursuing graduate work in our field. Many people do not realize that biostatistics is a great pathway into data science. In particular, students from underserved groups tend not to hear about biostatistics and the opportunities that our training affords. We also aimed to help attendees begin to build a network within the biostatistics community which is crucial to long term success.

Did anything surprise you about the event?

We had two primary surprises:

  • Attendees had lots of questions for the panelists at the event and were fearless in asking! We had prepared a number of questions, in case attendees were uncomfortable asking things in public, but didn't end up using any of them.
  • Students really didn't realize the big difference in opportunities afforded by a graduate degree in biostatistics versus just a bachelor’s degree in mathematics/statistics. In hindsight, this makes a lot of sense (why would they know?), but it speaks to a real need for advertising from the biostatistics community.

What sort of follow-up is planned with participants?

Several of the students have already contacted us to talk more about biostatistics and learn how they might get more involved and prepare for graduate school. In addition, we plan to send a survey out to get feedback on the event.

Is the diversity committee pursuing other initiatives?

As an immediate next step for those who showed interest at StatNorthwest, we are planning a summer program for students from underserved groups who want to get involved in biostatistics research. And we definitely plan to continue StatNorthwest in future years.

Also, organizing and advertising StatNorthwest helped us connect with several organizations on campus that serve students from underserved groups. We are working with those organizations to create a robust pipeline for underserved students to connect them with UW biostatistics.