Kathryn Wang, PhD
Currently working as a senior biostatistician at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
I received my PhD from the Department of Population Health Sciences with an emphasis in Biostatistics at the University of Utah in 2022.
A brief autobiography
I received my undergraduate degree in economic statistics from Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in China. I received a master’s degree at Jinan University where I learned about biostatistics. I want my career to have a positive impact on health and biostatistics seemed to fit that goal. I went to Georgetown University to further study biostatistics and ultimately decided a career as a biostatistician was a good fit for me. I realized I needed more sophisticated training in this area, so I applied to the PhD program at the U of U.
Describe your experience in the program
The Biostatistics track in the Department of Population Health Science provided all types of resources, such as advanced statistical courses, informative seminars, target-oriented mentorship, and cross-functional collaborative opportunities. All these prepared me to be an independent and reliable biostatistician. In my experience, PHS faculty give high priority to students’ affairs, which I felt was the foundation of having a fulfilled and successful PhD experience. Faculty members created a free speech environment for students, where all felt comfortable sharing thoughts, comments, and even complaints. Faculty take student input seriously, implementing changes as needed, which leads to a more successful program.
Which class did you like most?
I took classes that covered the various aspects of statistics, such as survival analysis, longitudinal data analysis, modern causal inference, machine learning, and multilevel data analysis. Two of my favorite classes were machine learning and multilevel data analysis as I was able to work on real-life projects during the semester. In addition to teaching me how to think and act as a biostatistician, working with other healthcare researches helped me discover my own research foci.
Describe some of your research experiences
I worked as a research assistant in the Study Design and Biostatistics Center (SDBC) as soon as I began the PhD Program. I was so lucky to be involved in the long-term Driving Out Diabetes Initiative (DODI) program working for Dr. Angie Fagerlin, where I gained experience in communicating with healthcare providers and managing multi projects. This program allowed me to use my statistical skills to inform better decision-making. After taking two classes from Dr. Ben Haaland, I found our research interests aligned. I reached out to Dr. Haaland to learn more and found he was willing to be my mentor. I was able collaborate more with oncologists and clinicians under his mentorship. The research proposed by oncologists was of great interest to me and it was a great challenge learning to answer their questions by using the appropriate statistical methods. We completed a number of projects together including comparative effectiveness, dynamic prediction models, and dynamic treatment regimens using Flatiron Health nationwide EHR database. During my PhD training, I published more than 10 papers.
What did you enjoy most about the program?
I enjoyed the opportunities this program offered. PHS faculty members have close collaborative relationships with health researchers and clinicians which provided plenty of opportunities to work on interesting projects. The working experiences improved my skills in writing SAP, coding, generating reports, and, most importantly, how to collaborate and communicate with clients. All these skills were of great use to me during my career search after graduation.
What is your next step and how you feel the program prepared you for this?
I am a Biostatistician at Janssen Pharmaceutical Company supporting the oncology team. One of my primary responsibilities is to support scientists in testing the effectiveness of new compounds. Although I am doing different analyses right now, I find the experience from the PhD program was invaluable to me. When faced with new research questions, I know what type of methods available to use, how to implement the method, and interpret the results.
What advice you have for future students?
Keep frequent communication with your mentors, faculty members, or your friends. They can provide a different perspective and offer life-changing advice, alternatives, or solutions to your problems. They also provide opportunities such as attending relevant conferences. With advance preparation, these conferences would offer a great learning experience and chance to build your professional network.