Student Profile: Anna Plantinga

Quick Facts

  • PhD program
  • Year entered program: 2013
  • Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Advisor: Michael Wu

Why did you choose biostatistics?

I have always enjoyed math. As an undergrad, I had the opportunity to do biological research and loved being part of the process of scientific discovery. Many of my coworkers identified a need for people who knew statistics and had the background to understand biological questions, so biostatistics seemed like an important field and one that I would enjoy.

Why did you choose the UW?

I chose UW primarily because when I visited, the students seemed excited about their work, collaborative, well-supported by the faculty, and happy with the training they had received. Also, Seattle is a great place to live!

How would you describe your experience as a UW Biostatistics student?

It's very intellectually stimulating. The classes are demanding, but I appreciate the solid base of statistical theory and methods that they provide. Methods research is exciting and challenging in that you are developing something that nobody else has done in quite the same way. There are also many seminars, working groups, and opportunities for collaborative projects, all of which allow you to think about problems outside of your primary area of research.

What kind of research are you doing?

I’m interested in the human microbiome—the community of bacteria that lives in and on a person. My research includes a variety of methods for discovering whether and how the microbiome is related to human health, including kernel machine regression methods, feature selection, and network analysis. For most of these, I start with methods that have been used for other types of high-dimensional data and modify them to incorporate the constraints and structural information present in microbiome data. 

How would you describe the benefit of your research?

My research aims to help us answer questions about the relationship between our gut bacteria and our health. In the long run, methods like this could make it possible to use the microbiome to identify people who are likely to have more serious disease outcomes or might respond well to a particular treatment. 

What are your future goals?

My goal is to become a faculty member at a liberal arts college.  I’d also like to stay involved in collaborative work with biological, clinical or public health researchers.

What do you like most about Seattle?

I appreciate the good public transit, the structure of Seattle neighborhoods, and the many green spaces in the city. I also love being near the mountains and ocean.

What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

I play viola in a Seattle community orchestra and enjoy running, hiking, and playing board games.

What advice would you give to a student who is considering a UW Biostatistics program?

UW Biostatistics programs provide theoretical rigor, significant engagement with real data analysis, and the opportunity to do research with outstanding faculty. If you're willing to put in the effort, this program can prepare you for just about anything a biostatistician might want to do. 

October 31, 2017