Biostatistics as a research discipline

Biostatistics is the science of inferring knowledge from data in the fields of medicine, biology, and public health. Researchers in the field of biostatistics study the theory, tools, and applications of methods for the collection, analysis, presentation, and interpretation of biomedical data. We work closely with subject matter experts in order to advance scientific knowledge.

Phases of biostatistics research

There are four basic phases of biostatistical research:

A: Performing (or aiding in the performance of) applied research in an area of medicine, biology or public health;

B: Determining the appropriate existing statistical methods (and study designs) and applying it in such research;

C: Developing, evaluating and implementing new methods for such research;

D: Establishing foundational theory for understanding/developing methods.

All of the phases are interdependent:

A,B: The nature of the scientific research motivates the choice of methods, while the available selection of methods places restrictions on the kind of research that can be done.

B,C: Limitations in available methods can motivate the development of new methods, while increased availability of new methods can increase the breadth of substantive research achievable using biostatistics.

B,C,D: Problems arising in numerical or theoretical validation studies can motivate changes in methods that lead to better performance. Simulation studies can inspire theoretical investigations, while theoretical phenomenae can suggest new simulation scenarios to investigate.

C,D: Unanswered theoretical questions raised by new methods can stimulate foundational research, while new theoretical results can inspire previously unimagined biostatistical methods.

The contribution of the field of biostatistics to science is maximized when these interdependencies are minded, managed and leveraged. Most biostatisticians tend to spend most of their time in Phases B and C, with different balances depending on individual preferences and scientific needs. It is also important that at least some biostatisticians spend significant effort in Phases A and D.

Some biostatisticians should participate in Phase D research since theorists in other disciplines are not as aware of nor as interested in the theoretical concerns arising in biostatistics and biostatisticians are uniquely aware of and intuitively understand the important biostatistical issues arising in health research. Even those biostatisticians not spending effort in D need to be aware of developments/foundations in D and be capable of applying those developments in order to be successful in C and B.

The purpose of the theoretical core courses in biostatistics is to expose doctoral students to the foundations and developments in theoretical biostatistics so that they can be better prepared to contribute to C and B, and to encourage participation in D. Read more about the courses here.

Contact information for those interested in research in biostatistics

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