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Alumni News: Winter 2011 Biostat E-News

Elaine Riot, Editor

This bulletin is for alumni and friends of the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Washington. To include your news in future issues, please contact the new E-News Editor, Gitana Garofalo.

US News Ranks UW Biostat #1

UW Biostat ranks #1 among the foremost biostatistics graduate programs in the country, according to the 2010 U.S. News and World Report graduate school rankings. We share this distinction with Harvard Biostatistics, the only other biostat program to receive a #1 rating. We congratulate our outstanding faculty and staff, who train and prepare our talented students for careers in public health research and education.

Including both biostatistics and statistics departments, UW Biostat ranked #3 overall, again tying with Harvard. Stanford Statistics ranked #1, with UC Berkeley Statistics holding the second spot. UW Statistics also made the top ten, ranking sixth. These rankings are based solely on the ratings of academic experts. For more on the methodology used, click here.

Lurdes Inoue Wins DeGroot Prize

Kudos to Associate Professor Lurdes Inoue, who was awarded the DeGroot Prize by the International Society for Bayesian Analysis as co-author of the book, “Decision Theory: Principles and Approaches.” She shares the prize with first author Professor Giovanni Parmigiani (Johns Hopkins). The DeGroot is awarded to the authors of a statistical science book that explores “fundamental issues of statistical inference, decision theory, and/or statistical applications,” and is chosen based on the “novelty, thoroughness, timeliness, and importance of their intellectual scope.”

After receiving her doctorate from Duke University in 1999, Lurdes took a position as a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Biostatistics at MD Anderson Cancer Center. In 2002, she joined our faculty as an assistant professor. Her research interests include Bayesian methods, especially as they apply to clinical trials; models for disease progression; decision theory and cancer research.

Bruce Lindsay Delivers R. A. Fisher Lecture

Congratulations to alum Bruce Lindsay (Ph.D. 1978, Breslow), who delivered the 2010 R. A. Fisher Lecture. The talk, “Likelihoods with Hidden Variables,” was given at the summer Joint Statistical Meetings in Vancouver, B.C.

The 2010 Council of Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS) chose Lindsay, Willaman Professor of Statistics at Penn State University, because of his important contributions to statistical theory, especially likelihood-based inference, according to the IMS Bulletin. The COPPS committee cited Lindsay’s seminal contributions to the study of mixture models, his theory for addressing nuisance parameter bias, and his development of the composite likelihood.

According to Hal Stern, chair of the COPSS Fisher Lecture Committee, “Bruce Lindsay is a deserving awardee; as one of his supporters wrote, ‘Like Fisher himself, Bruce brings keen geometric insight to bear on problems of practical relevance.’”

After Bruce completed a postdoctoral appointment at Imperial College in London, he joined the statistics faculty at Penn State, where he has worked ever since. In 1995, he won the Snedecor Award, and was named the Willaman Professor of Statistics in 2004. Besides his contributions to the literature, Bruce is well known for his mentoring and lecturing skill.

Rutter, Russek-Cohen Named ASA Fellows

Dr. Carolyn Rutter and alumnus Estelle Russek-Cohen (Ph.D. 1979, Kronmal) were selected as ASA fellows this year. American Statistical Association fellows are chosen by their peers “in recognition of their extraordinary achievements” and “outstanding contributions to the statistics profession,” according to ASA President Sastry Pantula. The 53 new ASA Fellows were inducted at an awards ceremony held at the summer Joint Statistical Meetings in Vancouver.

Biostat faculty member Carolyn Rutter, affiliate associate professor, is a senior researcher at Group Health Research Institute. Her expertise in meta-analysis has helped GHRI biostatistics grow into a program of international stature. Today, her research focuses on developing microsimulation models in colorectal cancer research, especially finding appropriate methods for model calibration. Dr. Rutter is P.I. of a colorectal cancer-screening project funded through the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET).

After receiving her doctoral degree at UW Biostat, Dr. Russek-Cohen joined the faculty of the University of Maryland. She stayed on there as a biostatistics professor for 26 years, five of those serving as director of the unit. Estelle began working for the FDA in 2004, and currently serves as the deputy director of the Division of Biostatistics at their Center for Devices and Radiological Health, overseeing the majority of statistical reviews associated with in vitro diagnostic devices.

James Anderson Named Associate Dean of Research

James Anderson (Ph.D. 1979, Prentice) was named associate dean for research for the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health late last year. The new position involves overseeing research activities and facilitating UNMC research projects.

“One of the college’s primary goals is to participate in making UNMC a world-class research institution,” Dr. Anderson said in an article in UNMC Today. “We hope to foster greater interactions between faculty, to assess research resources and fund pilot projects where junior faculty can collaborate with mentors to move projects forward.”

James is internationally known for cancer research, including his work as group statistician for the Children’s Oncology Group.

Second Term as UNC Biostat Chair for Kosorok

Michael Kosorok (Ph.D. 1991, Fleming) was recently appointed to a second five-year term as chair of the Department of Biostatistics at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Kosorok, professor of biostatistics and member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, started his chairmanship when he arrived at UNC in 2006. He enjoys an international reputation as multi-talented biostatistician, equally at home with methods and applied research. Mike is also known for his collaborative skills, forging departmental relationships with sister departments and universities, government agencies and industry.

“[Dr. Kosorok] is one of the leading biostatisticians in the world in both the development of innovative statistical methods that are used worldwide and in the application of these methods to important public health issues, such as the treatment of cystic fibrosis and cancer,” said Gillings School Dean Barbara Rimer in an article on the UNC website. “He has proven his ability to be a strong leader of an impressive department, and also an invaluable leader within the School.”

Biostatisticians Work with Washington State Patrol

Nayak Polissar, affiliate associate professor (pictured far left), is volunteering his expertise on behalf of the Washington State Patrol (WSP). Nayak is working on issues related to DUI breath testing with Biostatistics alum Rod Gullberg (M.S. Yanez, 2003, pictured right) and Visiting Scientist Wassana Suwanvijit. Because breath tests are often challenged in court on a statistical basis, the team is attempting to improve the methodology for estimates of breath alcohol concentration in order to defend against those challenges. One paper has been completed and is proceeding through WSP internal review and a second is in preparation.

Rod Gullberg works for the WSP as a research analyst in the Breath Test Section. He is on the faculty of the Center for Studies of Law in Action, where he lectures on elementary statistics. In 2006 he won the Robert F. Borkenstein Award from the National Safety Council Committee on Alcohol and Other Drugs.

New Biostatistics Faculty

Assistant Professor Daniela Witten joined the department in the fall, after completing her postdoctoral studies at Harvard. She has been named the 2010-2011 Genentech Endowed Professor of Biostatistics. Her research interests include applied statistics, machine learning, bioinformatics and genomics.

Research Associate Professor Sharon Browning joined the department in July. With a Ph.D. from UW Statistics, she was most recently a faculty member in Statistics at the University of Auckland. She works in the area of statistical genetics and collaborates with UW Medical Genetics faculty member Brian Browning.

Robyn McClelland (Ph.D. 2000, Kronmal), who has been a research scientist in the department since 2004, joined the faculty this year as research associate professor. She is associate director of our Collaborative Health Studies Coordinating Center. Robyn received an Outstanding Young Investigator Award for her work on the CHSCC Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis in 2009.

UW Hosts 2010 WNAR Meeting

Many UW Biostat alums, faculty and students attended the summer 2010 WNAR annual meeting, held at UW and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Invited speakers included Rebecca Hubbard (Ph.D. 2007, Inoue), Peter Gilbert (Ph.D. 1996, Self), Bryan Shepherd (Ph.D. 2005, Gilbert), Jennifer Nelson (Ph.D. 1999, Pepe), Danping Liu (Ph.D. 2010, Zhou), Margaret Pepe (Ph.D. 1986, Fleming), Holly Janes (Ph.D. 2005, Pepe), Yingye Zheng (Ph.D. 2002, Heagerty), Ruth Etzioni, Gary Chan and Adam Szpiro.

We are grateful to those UW Biostat faculty and alumni who volunteered their time to make the conference a success (along with FHCRC members and staff). UW faculty event organizers in Seattle included Gary Chan, Ying Qing Chen, Brenda Kurland (Ph.D. 2002, Heagerty) and Carolyn Rutter. Elizabeth Thompson co-chaired the student paper competition, and alum Todd Alonzo (Ph.D. 2000, Pepe) helped judge the student oral and written presentations. Holly Janes, Leslie Taylor (Ph.D. 2008, Zhou), Gary Chan, Todd Alonzo, Brenda Kurland, Li Qin and Adam Szpiro were among the invited session organizers. Thanks to all for a job well done.

We'd also like to give a special thank you to UW Biostat staff Cathy Greenbaum, Cynthia Marks and Megan Yuasa, who served as conference staff (along with FHCRC staff member Eric Woodruff).

Congratulations to Our Graduates


Kristin Marie Berry, Ph.D. (Advisor: Thomas Lumley)

Siobhan (Everson-Stewart) Brown, Ph.D. (Advisor: Scott Emerson)
Senior Biostatistician, ROC (Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium), UW Biostatistics

Youyi Fong, Ph.D. (Advisors: Jon Wakefield and Kenneth Rice)
Assistant Member, Division of Vaccine and Infectious Division. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Nan Hu, Ph.D (Advisor: Andrew (Xiao-Hua) Zhou)
Assistant Professor, Division of Epidemiology, School of Medicine, University of Utah; Statistician, University of Utah Study Design and Biostatistics Center

Yuying Jin, Ph.D. (Advisor: Margaret Pepe)
Mathematical Statistician, DDB/DBS/CDRH (Diagnostic Devices Branch, Division of Biostatistics, Center for Devices and Radiological Health), Food and Drug Administration

Danping Liu, Ph.D. (Advisor: Andrew (Xiao-Hua) Zhou)
Postdoctoral Fellow, UW Biostatistics

Katherine Odem-Davis, Ph.D. (Advisor: Thomas Fleming)
Postdoctoral Fellow, FHCRC - Biostatistics in HIV/AIDS research

Julian Wolfson, Ph.D. (Advisor: Peter Gilbert)
Assistant Professor, Division of Biostatistics, University of Minnesota


Traci Bartz, M.S. (Advisor: Holly Janes)
Analyst, Collaborative Health Studies Coordinating Center, UW Biostatistics

Shannon Grant, M.S. (Advisor: Susanne May)
Biostatistician, Axio Research

Krisztian Sebestyen, M.S. (Advisor: Andrew (Xiao-Hua) Zhou)
Statistician, Veteran’s Administration, Puget Sound Health Care System

Anne Skaron, M.S. (Advisor: Andrew (Xiao-Hua) Zhou)

Emily Weed, M.S. (Advisor: Katie Kerr)
Biostatistician, Cancer Research and Biostatistics (CRAB), Seattle

For a list of thesis titles, see the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of the Department of Biostatistics’ newsletter: Biostatisphere.


March 20-23, 2011: ENAR Spring Meeting, to be held on at the Hyatt Regency in Miami, Florida.

March 31, 2011: The nomination deadline for the Myrto Leftkopoulou Distinguished Lectureship.

April 1, 2011: The nomination deadline for the Mortimer Spiegelman Award. (The APHA call for nominations is generally not until March.)

May 26, 2011: 2011 Breslow Lecture, presented by Duncan Thomas, Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine, Division of Biostatistics, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, presentation title TBD.

June 13-July 1, 2011: Summer Institute in Statistical Genetics. Contact for more info.

June 13-29, 2011: Summer Institute in Statistics and Modeling in Infectious Diseases. Contact for more info.

June 18-21, 2011: 8th International Conference on Forensic Inference and Statistics, University of Washington, Seattle, co-hosted by UW School of Law and Department of Biostatistics, UW School of Public Health. For more info, go to:

June 19-22, 2011: WNAR Spring Meeting, to be held on the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California.

July 30-August, 2011: Joint Statistical Meetings in Miami, Florida

Honors and Awards

Congratulations to...

– Former grad student Youyi Fong (Ph.D. 2010, Wakefield/Rice), pictured left, winner of 2010 Gilbert S. Omenn Award, UW School of Public Health

Charles Cheung, who won the prestigious Williams Award for best oral presentation by a predoctoral student at the 2010 International Genetic Epidemiology Meeting in Boston.

Abby Shoben, winner of the 2010 Outstanding Student Award for the Department of Biostatistics.

– Grad student Gregory Levin, who was selected as the 2010-11 Magnuson Scholar from our School. The University names six Magnuson Scholars each year, one from each of the six UW Health Sciences schools. Magnuson Scholars are selected on the basis of their academic performance and their potential contributions to research in the health sciences.

– Grad student Zheyu Wang, winner of the 2010 Donovan J. Thompsom Award.

– Dr. Ken Rice, pictured left, who has been promoted to Associate Professor of Biostatistics.

– Graduate student Charlotte Gard, runner-up in the 2010 WNAR Student Paper Competition, written presentation.

– Graduate student Aasthaa Bansal, runner-up in the 2010 WNAR Student Paper Competition, oral presentation.

Chuan Zhou, (Ph.D. 2003, Wakefield) who has been promoted to Research Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, UWMC. He holds an affiliate appointment in Health Services.

– 2010 Outstanding Staff Award winner Norma Dermond, research consultant at the Collaborative Health Studies Coordinating Center. Staff award honorees include Cathy Greenbaum, Assistant to the Chair; Caitlin McHugh, Research Scientist, Center for Biomedical Statistics; and Renee Albert, Student Services Counselor.

– Dr. Gerald van Belle and the staff of the Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium (ROC) Data Coordinating Center, who were recently awarded a $60 million, six-year renewal.

– Dr. Daniela Witten, assistant professor of Biostatistics, who was appointed the 2010-2011 Genentech Endowed Professor of Biostatistics.

– Dr. Lurdes Inoue, for winning the 2010 Degroot Prize.

Nilanjan Chatterjee (Ph.D. Stat 1999, Breslow/Wellner), friend of the department, who won the 2010 Mortimer Spiegelman Award from the APHA. The Spiegelman Award recognizes outstanding contributions to health statistics by a statistician under age 40. Nilanjan is the chief and senior investigator of the Biostatistics Branch of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG), National Cancer Institute.

– Professor Jon Wellner, pictured, whose 65th birthday was honored at JSM by the UW Statistics and Biostatistics conference “ From probability to statistics and back: high-dimensional models and processes. ”

Sebastien Haneuse (Ph.D. 2004, Wakefield), who was recently appointed as Assistant Professor of Biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health.

– The Fall student-faculty retreat poster winners, Sean Devlin, Cheng Zheng and Clara Dominguez-Islas.

News Bits

– Dr. Pat Wahl (Ph.D. 1971, Kronmal), pictured left, stepped down this year after 11 years of outstanding service as Dean of the UW School of Public Health. Pat will continue to contribute to the School and will remain a faculty member of the Department of Biostatistics.
Dr. Howard Frumkin is the new dean.

– Our 4th Seattle Symposium in Biostatistics: Clinical Trials featured a distinguished line-up of speakers from government, industry and academia. The event, held every five years on a different topic, offered a two-day symposium and five short courses. It was very well received, thanks to the organizing committee, led by committee chair Tom Fleming, and event specialist Sandra Coke, who played a vital administrative role. Check out the presentation slides and poster abstracts on the Symposium’s website.

– Professor Art Peterson’s teen smoking-cessation study is the largest randomized trial ever designed to develop and test a proactive approach to help teenagers quit smoking. Read about it here.

– Our thanks to Laura Lee Johnson (Ph.D. 2002, Diehr), pictured left. Currently a statistician at NIH, Laura recently donated a gift to 18 different UW funds, across different departments, primarily for student support. Read about it here.

– Former administrator Cynthia Marks has moved to the newly created position of Grants Administrator. Cynthia is uniquely qualified to oversee the department’s considerable grant and contract funding, with UW business and international studies degrees and 20 years of experience fostering the fiscal health of the department.

– Professor Margaret Pepe (Ph.D. 1985, Fleming) delivered the 2010 Ross L. Prentice lecture, “Metrics for Measuring Biomarker Performance.”

Kung-Yee Liang (Ph.D. 1982, Breslow), pictured left, professor of biostatistics and epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, participated in the 2010 UW Biostat seminar series, presenting “ Pseudo-Likelihood: Theory and Applications to Population-Based Genetic Association Studies.”

– Biostatistics grad student Victor G. Sal y Rosas was a featured author in the SPH Spotlight on Research, August 2010: “Incidence Estimation in Studies with Only One Follow-up Visit and an Imperfect Test.”

– The 2010 Breslow Lecture was delivered by Niels Keiding, biostatistics professor at the University of Copenhagen.

Sebastien Haneuse (Ph.D. 2004, Wakefield) served as a member of the 2010 JSM Program Committee.

– The School of Public Health History Project is an online video venture designed to preserve the history of the UW School of Public Health. Watch interviews of Norm Breslow, Paula Diehr, Al Hallstrom, Dick Kronmal, Ross Prentice, Gerald van Belle and Pat Wahl, here.

– If you’re thinking of making a donation to the department, please click here for a list of our current funding needs.

Coming and Going

– Welcome Nick Yasinski, pictured left, as the department’s new administrator. Nick was formerly research administrator of our Collaborative Health Studies Coordinating Center (CHSCC).

– Welcome James Oliphant, new research administrator for the CHSCC.

– Farewell to Professor Thomas Lumley (Ph.D. 1998, Heagerty), who has joined the faculty of the University of Auckland.

– Farewell to Student Service Counselor Renee Albert, who has taken a position in Pathology at UWMC.

– Welcome Gitana Garofalo, our new Student Service Coordinator. Gitana, a Wellesley alum, also has a graduate degree from Seattle University in mental health counseling with a specialization in academic advising.

– Farewell to Visiting Professor Wassana Suwanvijit, who will depart at the end of the year.


Chuan Zhou, (Ph.D. 2003, Wakefield) and wife Yi welcomed their first baby boy, Nathan Yi-An Zhou (pictured with his dad, left), on January 5, 2010, at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.

Curriculum Coordinator Alex MacKenzie’s first novel has been published! Alex had a reading and signing event for her newly published fantasy novel, “Immortal Quest,” at the University Bookstore this past fall.

Alumni Profiles

Name: Jinko Graham

UW Biostat Degree/Year: Ph.D. 1998 – Advisor, Elizabeth Thompson

Current Job/Employer: Associate Professor, Statistics and Actuarial Science, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

Research interests: statistical genetics

Current research: I’d like to take the opportunity to advertise:
1) The programs of study in my department. The Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at SFU offers a highly interactive and personalized approach to undergraduate and graduate training that typifies the unique history of the University. Our programs provide solid training in contemporary applied and theoretical statistics as well as in various specialty areas.

2) The Canadian Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics Meeting is held annually, usually around Toronto. This meeting is now in its 5th year and all are welcome!

Interesting publication: Shin J-H, McNeney B, Graham J. Case-control inference of interaction between genetic and nongenetic risk factors under assumptions on their distribution. Statistical Applications in Genetics and Molecular Biology 2007 Apr; 6(1), Article 13.

Personal milestones: My daughter Elsie, born August 2008, was welcomed into the family by her older brothers Hugh and Kazuo.

Favorite book: “Shi-shi-etko” and “Shin-Chi’s Canoe,” both by Nicola Campbell (children’s stories).

Hobbies: Summer car camping and day hikes with the family.

Favorite Biostat memory: Many fond memories, including discovering the beauty of Olympic National Park and getting soaked to the skin with Monika, discovering WA wine country and wines with Patrick and canoeing with Brad on Lake Washington after classes.

Fellow Alumni are welcome to contact me:

Other comments: Glad to be able to reconnect after temporarily losing touch! Many thanks to Sandra Coke for enabling this.

Name: Nadav Nur

Biostat Degree/Year/Advisor: M.S. 1991 – Advisor, Ellen Wijsman

Current Job/Employer: Principal Scientist, Quantitative Ecology, PRBO Conservation Science (originally Point Reyes Bird Observatory)

Research interests: Population dynamic modeling, demographic parameter estimation, statistical modeling

Current research: I have had the opportunity recently to collaborate with colleagues using machine-learning techniques for predictive modeling, such as bagged decision trees and boosted regression trees; my most recent work, on modeling seabird “hotspots” in California has attracted a lot of attention from the branch of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) responsible for National Marine Sanctuaries.

Interesting publication: There are two I want to mention: I was lead author on “Statistical Guide to Data Analysis of Avian Monitoring Programs,” a biological technical report published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that came out of several workshops I gave in the 1990’s to USFWS biologists. The Guide was published in 1999; I am hoping to convince the Fish and Wildlife Service that it’s overdue for an updating.

The second publication is “Use of survival time analysis to analyze nesting success in birds: an example using Loggerhead Shrikes,” published in The Condor in 2004. It is, to my knowledge, the first published example of using Cox proportional hazards model for analysis of avian nest survival. In any case, the publication provided a means to inform ornithologists of currently used time-to-failure methods that I had tackled as a Biostat grad student.

Personal milestones: Since 1991, my family has lived in Mill Valley, a community that we love. My wife, Linda, and I are (currently) empty-nesters: our daughter, Alana, 22, is a senior at UC Davis, studying sociology, and son, Rafi, 20, is a sophomore at Cornell, studying film. My daughter is an “alum” of sorts: she was born at University Hospital while I was in my first year as a Biostat grad student.

Hobbies: International folk dancing (which my wife and I did in my UW days, too), Lindy hop (very popular in the Bay Area, and in Seattle, too), and hiking, both the trails in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, close to where we live, and in the Sierra Nevada. Now that our two children are in college, my wife and I get to indulge in our hobbies.

Fellow alumni may contact

Other comments: My time at UW Biostat couldn’t have worked out better for me, professionally and personally. In my second year of graduate study, as I was working to finish my M.S. in Biostatistics, I applied for a job at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. I was hired as PRBO’s first quantitative ecologist. The organization was looking for someone with graduate degrees in both ecology and statistics. That was an unusual combination, but it’s one that I could claim, having earned my Ph.D. in ecology (Duke University) before entering the Biostat program. Then when I arrived at PRBO, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a large and diverse group of biologists. I immediately started on analyses of long-term data, collected by my ornithologist colleagues, on seabirds and the sedentary Wrentit (restricted to the coastal scrub habitat of California and Oregon), and I have continued to collaborate since.

Special thanks to Dave Yanez, Renee Albert, Sandra Coke, Jinko Graham, Nadav Nur, Nayak Polissar, Cynthia Marks, and Alex MacKenzie for their contributions to this issue of the Biostat E-News.

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