Student Profile: Rui Zhuang

Quick Facts

  • PhD Program
  • Year entered: 2014
  • Hometown: Xuzhou, China
  • Advisors: Johannes Lederer and Noah Simon

Why did you choose biostatistics?

As an undergraduate, I was involved in a research project in genetics and found that making sense of the data was challenging and critical. I started to learn biostatistics and discovered my passion for it. Biostatistics is a blend of math and biological sciences, which aligns well with my strengths and interests.

Why did you choose UW?

Without a doubt, UW is a leader in the biostatistics field. Many landmark works have taken place here. More importantly, UW Biostatistics is a vibrant community. During my visit, it was not hard to tell that people here are passionate about what they do. The exciting academic atmosphere touched me deeply, and I am honored to be part of the community.

In addition, UW conducts world-class research in biomedicine, genetics, computer science and other fields. It provides opportunities for great education and collaboration, which are especially important for interdisciplinary fields such as biostatistics. Added to that, Seattle is a rising hotspot of tech development with more and more work opportunities being provided.

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

The first two years of the PhD program have high curricular requirements. I feel these rigorous classes are valuable assets. They equip students with a solid base of theory which allows us to dive deep into specific research fields. The academic atmosphere here is very active and free. Student research interests are truly respected. We have a chance to try different areas so we can discover our real research interest. 

What kind of research are you conducting?

My dissertation advisors, Johannes Lederer and Noah Simon, and I are working on the methods to model the conditional interaction structure of human gut microbiome. We are interested in the theory and algorithm of exponential trace model, a general class of undirected graphical models.The work will help biomedical scientists better understand how human gut microbes interact with each other. This is fundamental to the understanding of pathogenic processes of a lot of intestinal diseases and of the pharmacological responses to therapeutic intervention.

I am also a research assistant with Ying Qing Chen, affiliate professor of biostatistics. We are working on statistical methods for validating surrogate endpoints (an indirect indicator of a disease state or its response to therapy). In medical research, validated surrogate markers are highly desirable in study design, monitoring, and analysis, but challenges exist to identify a reliable marker. We work on the statistical method to measure and rank the surrogacy of potential markers which is beneficial to the general community.

Currently, the use of surrogate markers in medical research is controversial. On the one hand, there are many examples that inappropriate surrogate markers provide misleading information about intervention efficacy. On the other hand, the difficulty of studying the clinically meaningful endpoints and seriousness of the condition oblige people to use surrogate markers at times. Finding appropriate methods for validating surrogate endpoints may allow more studies to be conducted and accelerate early screening of new interventions.

What are your future goals?

I hope to continue my research as a statistician in the field of biostatistics. The development of science and technology makes more and more biomedical data accessible. How to interpret and mine the data present challenges and opportunities for the field of biostatistics. I hope to be part of this trend.

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

Among the many merits of the UW biostatistics program, the one I appreciate the most is academic freedom. I think this is an important factor to consider. The program provides a lot of opportunities to learn cutting-edge research work, to communicate with faculty with a variety of expertise, and to try out different topics. For students who recently graduated from an undergraduate college and have no clear picture of a dissertation topic, these opportunities are much appreciated.

What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

In my spare time, I enjoy board games and spending time with family and friends. For me, family and friends are treasures in the journey of life. 

What do you like most about living in Seattle?

Seattle has breathtaking beauty. As its nickname, the Emerald City, implies, Seattle’s water, trees, and grass provide an emerald-like environment. Summer in Seattle is warm and sunny, which is great for enjoying the outdoors.

March 19, 2018