Economic Diversity and the Academy: Statistical Science

As an undergraduate student, there are many aspects of professors that may be perceptible to varying degrees. One area that is less likely to be apparent is their childhood socioeconomic background. When the topic is broached, it is not unusual to find out that a faculty member had faculty parents or elite educational opportunities.

This summer I was a faculty advisor in the Summer Program in Biostatistics and Computational Biology (SPBCB) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This program recruits diverse undergraduate students, including underrepresented minorities in STEM and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to increase the pipeline of diversity entering biostatistics PhD programs. I am not an underrepresented minority, but aim to act intentionally to recruit racially and ethnically diverse students into our STEM field. I did come from a low socioeconomic background. (2017 Edit: I will be a mentor for SPBCB again and join the FACETS program for the first time.)

I’m passionate about this endeavor, and I look forward to continually working with and encouraging students to learn more about biostatistics. I can enthusiastically recommend all students consider biostatistics PhD programs since (1) job prospects are expanding as data science enters many arenas and (2) most biostatistics PhD programs are fully funded with stipend.

I’m also always willing to share with students my own disadvantaged background. I grew up quite poor, often lacking sufficient food, clothing, and shelter in a violent broken home. As a child, the police visited our house, I spent a brief amount of time in a shelter for women and children, and I was evicted twice. Going to school was the best part of my day, because I felt safe there. Early on, I realized that getting an education would be my only way out of the dysfunction of my situation. I was fortunate to have an aptitude for scholastics, and benefited from tracking programs that identified me as a honors student in elementary school. I’m one of the lucky ones with other privileges that helped enable my success, and feel it is my responsibility to actively contribute to increasing the pipeline of diverse backgrounds in statistical science programs. 

If you don't meet people like you in your current classes or see yourself in your instructors, that does not mean that you don't belong in this field or shouldn't continue your studies in graduate school. Biostatistics is an exciting discipline where you can work on mathematical challenges, health applications, or policy considerations on any given day. Visit and watch the embedded video below to see the breadth of career possibilities in statistics. Apply to our summer program or other programs to learn more about statistical science. Reach out to me personally if you need advice.

If you work with undergraduate students in quantitative, biological, or health majors, please encourage them to check out summer programs in statistical science.

Originally Posted: July 20, 2016