Alumna Profile: Clara Oromendia

Working on a vaccine trial to prevent dengue fever takes Clara Oromendia back to her childhood.

She grew up in Argentina, and still recalls the public service announcements every summer: Don’t leave standing water around the house. It creates a habitat for mosquitoes.

“It’s cool to be working on something I remember from when I was little, and that will have a huge impact when it comes out,” says Oromendia, a master’s student who moved to the U.S. when she was 12.

Transmitted by mosquito bites, dengue is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. “There is no cure,” Oromendia says.  But a vaccine under development from the drug maker Sanofi holds promise, she says, and could be approved within the next couple of years.

Oromendia has been working on data from the trial under the supervision of Peter Gilbert, research professor of biostatistics based at the Fred Hutch research center. Among other questions, she seeks to determine whether the vaccine works differently in different parts of the world.

“We’re trying to understand exactly how the vaccine works,” she says. “To me, it’s crucial for statisticians to be as efficient as possible in answering questions without data dredging, without being biased in the results.”

Oromendia also works as a graduate research assistant at Fred Hutch, using statistics to understand data in HIV clinical trials involving behavioral risk and the use of different birth control and hormonal contraceptives. “I really like it because I get experience into how research organizations work,” Oromendia says. “And I get to look at real data, actual clinical results. That’s not super common for master’s students.”

Oromendia’s goal is to work in clinical trials, and she hopes to return to Argentina at some point to apply her skills. She is passionate about communicating the power and usefulness of biostatistics. She tutors other graduate students in introductory biostatistics, and spoke to Bainbridge High School math students about career possibilities.

“It’s a very creative job,” she says. “People don’t realize it’s a lot more about synthesis, creativity and tradeoffs than formulas. Even if they’re not going to be a statistician, they’re going to use stats everywhere and it’s going to give them a leg up in the job market. Everybody’s being asked to have data-driven decisions.”

Oromendia was turned on to statistics during an Advanced Placement class in high school. “I’ve always liked numbers,” she says, “and I like the idea that stats turn numbers into knowledge.”

She also likes that biostatistics allows you to apply technical knowledge to different fields. “I like learning new things constantly,” Oromendia says. “As a statistician coming into a problem, you learn the gist of the biology, the gist of the problems.”

Oromendia appreciates working with world-class faculty. “We have some of the premier statisticians in the field, and they’re super dedicated to their students,” she says.

She also likes the closeness of her cohort. “The sense of community within the class is really strong,” she says. “The department really fosters that, from the beginning with a departmental retreat of three days. You get to meet and bond with your classmates before classes begin.”

More about Clara Oromedia

  • BS, Statistics, University of Minnesota
  • Research Assistant, Fred Hutch Research Center
  • Expected graduation date: December, 2015