Dr Terry Neeman a Biostatistician celebrates International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Dr Terry Neeman explains why statistics help biologists understand the world Dr Terry Neeman explains why statistics help biologists understand the world

Most people view biostatistics as the science of understanding and interpreting biological data from experiments and surveys. But I see it as something much more. I’ve worked with scientists across many disciplines, including ecologists, plant scientists, molecular biologists, biochemists, immunologists, geneticists, cancer biologists, epidemiologists and clinicians. Statistical ideas are at the very core of all scientific disciplines; they inform experimental design, data management, data visualisation, and interpretation of high-dimensional and complex data in meaningful ways.

What I like about being a biostatistician is that I can feast on wide range of intellectual ideas in philosophy of science, biology, medicine and mathematics. I also get ample opportunities to “play” with data; indeed, as statistical software becomes more sophisticated, there are more computational tools to discover.  But the most special part of my profession is collaborating and communicating with scientists who are passionate about their work. Students and researchers in the Joint Colleges of Sciences seek me out to get statistical input on their experiments and surveys. I feel hugely valued by scientific researchers, who recognise that a statistical perspective on their experimentally-generated data can be enlightening and empowering.

Being a biostatistician also allows me to be an activist for change in biology education. Presently, most introductory biostatistics courses fail to prepare students for working with 21st century biological and medical data. The data science revolution has been slow to penetrate the biological and medical university curriculum.  I’m encouraged by the eagerness of the next generation of scientists to develop their computational and statistical skills. I’ve learned from trying to meet the increasing demand for statistical thinking, that the time is ripe for re-thinking how we teach statistics. I’m looking forward to being part of that revolutionary change: making statistics relevant and empowering for scientists!