Brayan Ortiz

Brayan Ortiz

  • Program: PhD ('18)
  • Current: Research Scientist, Amazon

Story was originally published in February 2017 when Ortiz was still a student.


Why did you choose biostatistics?

Biostatistics fits me as a person.  I get to work with people from many fields, both scientific and non-scientific. I value collaboration and enjoy the prospect of theoretical and applied problems. 

Why did you choose the UW?

Without a doubt, I chose UW because of the people. During the time I was choosing schools, I spoke with faculty members Daniela Witten, Scott Emerson and many current students.  There was a candidness and good-natured humor I observed, and still witness today.  They made statistics topics seem simple. They gave me the impression that something special was going on at UW and it had as much to do with the people doing the state-of-the-art research as the research itself. 

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

The UW Biostat student experience is busy, but beneficially so. There is a fair amount of work, but it's all time well spent. Some quarters can feel tough because I may be working on a paper with my advisor while also taking a consulting course.  The busy schedule is a benefit though, because it's realistic of a possible future workload and schedule.  A lot of our time is spent in seminar or in meetings with faculty over research and this exposes us to the collaborative and growing aspect of biostatistics.

What kind of research are you doing?

My dissertation advisor, Noah Simon, and I are working on a nonparametric regression method that solves finite approximations for functional optimization problems. We currently call the method “meshy optimization.” It discretizes observed data onto a mesh and we use messy interpolation and Riemann approximations to approximate a functional problem. I am also a research assistant for Jim Hughes. Often, in clinical trials, it's not known if participants are adhering to a pill-taking schedule.  Jim and I have been working to implement a Bayesian model for estimating adherence probabilities.

How would you describe the benefit of your research?

Often when we want to know something about a relationship—for example between treatment efficacy and a person’s DNA—we do not know precisely the mechanism that governs that relationship. The research that I do offers a way to answer scientifically-relevant questions about the mechanism, without knowing the mechanism.

What are your future goals?

A primary goal of mine is to eventually find a position where my work contributes to both public health and social progress. Ideally, my career will involve using and developing methodology to evaluate treatments for diseases of interest. It would be great to be a part of a group or company that is concerned about the availability of its treatments, as well as its involvement with communities. Public health information and services should be accessible and affordable such that people live less of their lives as patients.

What do you like most about Seattle?

Seattle is simply beautiful. We live in a splendid blend of blue and green. The trees and bodies of water frame and characterize each of the neighborhoods. You can tell where you are by the trees and water. There is a journey you can take that starts in the Greenwood neighborhood where you follow cedars, firs, pines, and many others trees down to the Blue Ridge neighborhood where it ends in a view of Puget Sound. I like this about Seattle.

What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

For a while now my main extracurricular activities have been Muay Thai and boxing training. I like to watch sports. I watch mainly boxing, and Manchester United, Sounders, and Seahawks.  

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

The fact that you are considering UW Biostatistics suggests you have good judgment. Use that good judgment and consider which members of the faculty are doing the kind of work you would be proud to see yourself do one day. If you can do that, then this department will be right for you.