Not just one statistics interview…John McGready is the Jon Stewart of statistics


Editor’s Note: We usually reserve Friday’s for posting Simply Statistics Interviews. This week, we have a special guest post by John McGready, a colleague of ours who has been doing interviews with many of us in the department and has some cool ideas about connecting students in their first statistics class with cutting edge researchers wrestling with many of the same concepts applied to modern problems. I’ll let him explain…

I teach a two quarter course in introductory biostatistics to master’s students in public health at Johns Hopkins.  The majority of the class is composed of MPH students, but there are also students doing professional master’s degrees in environmental health, molecular biology, health policy and mental health. Despite the short length of the course, it covers the “greatest hits” of biostatistics, encompassing everything from exploratory data analysis up through and including multivariable proportional hazards regression.  The course focus is more conceptual and less mathematical/computing centric than the other two introductory sequences taught at Hopkins: as such it has earned the unfortunate nickname “baby biostatistics” from some at the School.  This, in my opinion, is an unfortunate misnomer: statistical reasoning is often the most difficult part of learning statistics.  We spend a lot of time focusing on the current literature, and making sense or critiquing research by considering not only the statistical methods employed and the numerical findings, but also the study design and the logic of the substantive conclusions made by the study authors.

Via the course, I always hope to demonstrate the importance  biostatistics as a core driver of public health discovery, the importance of statistical reasoning in the research process, and how the fundamentals that are covered are the framework for more advanced methodology. At some point it dawned on me that the best approach for doing this was to have my colleagues speak to my students about these ideas.  Because of timing and scheduling constraints, this proved difficult to do in a live setting.  However, in June of 2012 a video recording studio opened here at the Hopkins Bloomberg School. At this point, I knew that I had to get my colleagues on video so that I could share their wealth of experiences and expertise with my students, and give the students multiple perspectives. To my delight my colleagues are very amenable to being interviewed and have been very generous with their time. I plan to continue doing the interviews so long as my colleagues are willing and the studio is available.

I have created a Youtube channel for these interviews.  At some point in the future, I plan to invite the biostatistics community as a whole to participate.  This will include interviews with visitors to my department, and submissions by biostatistics faculty and students from other schools. (I realize I am very lucky to have these facilities and video expertise at Hopkins: but many folks are tech savvy enough to film their own videos on their cameras, phones etc… in fact you have seen such creativity by the editors of this here blog). With the help of some colleagues I plan on making a complimentary website that will allow for easy submission of videos for posting, so stay tuned!