Student Profile: Phuong Vu

Quick Facts

  • Program: PhD, Fifth Year
  • Hometown: Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Advisor: Adam Szpiro
  • Awards: 2019 Outstanding PhD Student in Biostatistics by the UW School of Public Health; Most Outstanding Oral Presentation at the 2018 Western North American Region (WNAR) Conference of the International Biometric Society

Why did you choose biostatistics?

I graduated from Macalester College in 2013. While at Macalester, I majored in both Applied Mathematics & Statistics and Economics. I had always been a math nerd and interested in solving applied and statistical problems throughout my time in college. I was chosen as one of the students to participate in the Mayo Innovation Scholar Program, in which we were tasked with assessing the clinical and market potentials of new product ideas by Mayo physicians and scientists.

While fulfilling my responsibility on the business side of the project, I found myself more and more fascinated by the technical and scientific reports. After that, I started talking more with my statistics professors and recent alumni, and eventually learned about the field of biostatistics.

Biostatistics seemed like the perfect marriage between theoretical rigor and practical applications. I decided that higher education in biostatistics would be beneficial for my future career.

Why did you choose UW?

There were many reasons why I chose UW. I would say that the positive impressions about the faculty, the students, and the department culture during the PhD Visit Days played an important role in making my final decision.

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

The program is challenging and research can sometimes feel like a roller coaster; however, I always feel supported and motivated by my friends, faculty, and mentors.

You presented your research at last year's Biostatistics Colloquium.  How would you describe the benefit of this research?

My dissertation research is motivated by issues arising in environmental studies on air pollution. These studies often rely on data collected at strategic but fixed locations across the country, which are usually not the residential locations where the health outcome data is measured. Ambient air is also a complex mixture of many chemical components whose synergies and health effects have not been well understood. My work focuses on developing statistical methods to effectively handle these complications in dealing with air pollution data. The ultimate goal is to obtain accurate estimates of pollution concentrations and, as a result, to gain better understanding of the impacts of pollution exposures on human health.

Are you involved in any other research projects?

Collaborative research is an integral part of my graduate training. Since entering the PhD program in 2014, I have been working as a research assistant at the Center for Biomedical Statistics under the supervision of Dr. Patrick Heagerty and Bryan Comstock, MS.

I have been engaged in numerous partnerships with clinical practitioners and researchers, in which I apply state-of-the-art statistical methods and enhance existing methods as needed. Notably, I am one of the lead statisticians on the Preterm Erythropoietin Neuroprotection (PENUT) Trial, a randomized, multi-center, placebo-controlled phase III 940 subject trial of erythropoietin for the neuroprotection of extremely premature infants.

What are your future goals?

I am excited to work as a biostatistician for Seattle Children’s Research Institute after graduating from the program this year.

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

At UW Biostatistics, our people are fantastic but our program is undeniably rigorous and challenging. If you are considering UW's program, I urge you to talk with our students and faculty members to determine if graduate school is the right path for you and if UW is a good fit for you and your future endeavors. Once you’ve made your decision, be ready to commit and work hard. I stumbled upon a great quote a few years ago: “It's often a mistake assuming that doing a PhD is about brilliance. Brilliance gets you started. Slog and persistence get you to finish it."

What extracurriculur activities do you enjoy?

In my free time, I enjoy gaming, dancing, and trying out good food. I also like to maintain an active lifestyle with boxing/kickboxing and outdoorsy activities whenever the weather allows.

What do you like most about living in Seattle?

Seattle is a vibrant and green city. I can easily find exciting events or outdoorsy activities to attend, but I can also find quiet scenic places with nature. The public transportation is great, and there are even buses connecting the city to hiking trails in the summer. The rain is not as bad as people think!

May 20, 2019