Student Profile: Jiacheng Wu

Quick Facts

  • PhD program
  • Year entered program: 2016
  • Hometown: Shanghai, China
  • Advisor: Daniela Witten

Why did you choose biostatistics?

Studying biostatistics gives me the opportunity to work with people from different fields and I find it rewarding to help them design and analyze experiments. I also know that biostatistics isn't easy. It requires years of training in mathematics and experience in real-world data analysis.  I believe that my training and passion for biostatistics can contribute to important public health and medical problems.

Why did you choose the UW?

UW has one of the best biostatistics programs in the U.S.  It's a rigorous program with training in both statistical theory and application. Faculty here have broad research interests including: clinical trials, genetics, electronic health records, causal inference and machine learning. I can work with leading researchers in the field, and the department has close connections with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children's Hospital, Harborview Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, and other medical institutions.

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

The courses at UW are both challenging and rewarding. I’ve learned a lot from them even though I had a master's degree before I came to UW.  I took several machine learning electives in the first year, which broadened my horizon and gave me the tools to do my own research.

UW Biostatistics students are really close. Students help each other study for qualifying exams and discuss research ideas. We also hang out in our free time. We go to dinner, play sports and travel. Students also organize lots of fun events with faculty. It feels like home.

In my first year, I was a teaching assistant for an introduction to R course for health science students. This experience gave me the opportunity to help students with no prior programing experience learn R. I enjoyed teaching students, and I was fortunate to get advice about presentation skills from Timothy Thornton.

What kind of research are you doing?

I am developing a type of penalized regression in the field of statistical learning with Daniela Witten. My current project is to develop interpretable and flexible models for survival data. In clinical trials we have a time-to-event outcome subject to censoring and we usually use Cox’s proportional hazard model to estimate the covariate effects—namely, how the hazard of death varies with different values of covariates. My contribution is to fit piecewise constant and piecewise polynomial with adaptively chosen knots for the covariate effects using trend filtering penalty.

How would you describe the benefit of your research?

For example, when using my method, physicians can decide the threshold for age or biomarkers above which the hazard of death from certain disease increases. It is more informative and flexible than current approaches. Since most of the clinical trial has survival outcome, my research will provide insight into how patient-specific characteristics can affect survival.

What are your future goals?

I am currently working on a project about comparing different predictive models. I am also working on a project about evaluating the vaccine efficacy in HIV vaccine trials. In the future, I am open to both industrial and academic opportunities. I want to work in a collaborative environment with people from different fields.

What do you like most about Seattle?

Seattle is a big city with many tech companies so it’s convenient for students to find internships. There are lots of restaurants and museums to explore as well. Seattle is close to three national parks, and the outdoor culture is great. 

What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

I like weightlifting and working out in the gym. It’s a good way to relax after a day of study and research. I also enjoy outdoor activities: hiking, skiing, cycling and camping. And I like to go out with friends and explore the restaurants in Seattle.  

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

As a student, you can build a good foundation of statistical theory and applications at UW.  And the department has close ties with statistics and other departments. The faculty here have diverse research interests and you can always find leading researchers to work with in the field. Our alumni are also located all over the world in industry and academics, and these connections are important for future success.

March 14, 2018