Ever Considered a Career in Modeling? Then the Brown School Might Be the Place For You! | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
Steven Hayworth
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Ever Considered a Career in Modeling? Then the Brown School Might Be the Place For You!

Modeling! Just think about it! The glamour; the fame; the elite status as one of the world’s cream of the crop! All of these things can be yours if you just take up statistical modeling here at the Brown School!

Ok, that’s probably not where you saw this one going, but statistics is really cool (I’m going to spend the next 600 words trying to prove it). And because it plays a vital role in nearly every facet of public health, statistics will definitely be a part of your time here at the Brown School.

Week in and week out, Joe Steensma, my Foundations of Biostatistics professor, reiterates: while “statistics for statistic’s sake” can be fun, statistics should also carry a rightful weight of responsibility. Consider: beyond statistics for tracking and describing epidemics, health disparities and public health crises, statistics are ultimately representations of human lives. Each statistic is a stand-in for a person and their loved-ones and their collective well-being. And as future public health officials, we are charged in protecting the health of each statistic, each human life. It is our responsibility and our obligation.

So how does the Brown School translate the cold edge of statistics into a more human form? As Joe Steensma astutely articulated: we need to allow our statistics to tell their story; to give these numbers a human voice while letting them predict and ultimately prevent large-scale impact of some diseases altogether; to use statistics to convince policy makers, legislators and the public to buy in to investing in prevention initiatives. (No pressure for your first stats class in graduate school, right?)

The discussion of bringing statistics to life has certainly been ongoing in my Statistics class, but reached its peak this past week as we submitted group projects on Simple Linear Regressions using SPSS (a type of statistical software). The concept of a linear regression may be familiar from your college algebra class, but translating the significance that such a model has in predicting health burdens was, to me, quite profound.

Using this wondrously powerful statistical software (just one of many others offered at the Brown School) allowed us to more deeply understand how everything in the world, especially in public health, has a number attached to it. Looking at the world within this context of probabilities radically altered my perception of public health determinants—access to healthy foods, access to healthcare, population density, sanitation standards, and socioeconomic status relating both to chronic and infectious diseases. Most importantly, when properly manipulated, these numbers enable us as students and future public health officials to effectively communicate a story to those who need it most: communities, organizations and policy makers.

At the Brown School, which has an immense focus on evidence-based public health, both communication and statistics will inevitably be a part of your time here. But, if math is not your thing and this post seems overwhelming, never fear! Beyond the School’s excellent faculty, we also have the added benefit of the Stat Lab, a pilot program which brings together 2nd year students from the Brown School to coach other Brown School students through any and all homework assignments, research projects or general statistics inquiries. It’s a wonderful opportunity to hone your statistical skills with colleagues and friends, which I know helps me understand both the science and the story behind a new statistic concept or program.

For me, the human story is fundamental to why we do what we do. And, although statistics may at first glance seem like a cold mathematical tool, this very same tool gives us insight into collective lives that we would otherwise never have the opportunity to see. Statistics is definitely my thing and I love it, but I have found that understanding it within the context of public health’s compassion very quickly changes the hearts of even its harshest critics.