The Care and Feeding of the Biostatistician

Roger Peng

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Elizabeth C. Matsui, an Associate Professor in the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

I’ve been collaborating with Roger for several years now and we have had quite a few discussions about characteristics of a successful collaboration between a clinical investigator and a biostatistician.  I can’t remember for certain, but think that this cartoon may have been the impetus for some of our discussions. I have joked that I should write a guide for clinical investigators entitled, “The Care and Feeding of the Biostatistician.”  Fortunately, Roger has a good sense of humor and appreciates the ironic title, so asked me to write down a few thoughts for Simply Statistics.  Forging successful collaborations may seem less important than other skills such as grant writing, but successful collaboration is an important determinant of career success, and for many people, an enormous source of career satisfaction. And in the current scientific environment in which large, complex datasets and sophisticated quantitative and data visualization methods are becoming increasingly common, collaboration with biostatisticians is necessary to harness the full potential of your data and to have the greatest scientific impact.  In some cases, not engaging a biostatistical collaborator may put you at risk of making statistical missteps that could result in erroneous results.