Career Paths Highlighted in Three Health Related Government Agencies

Moderator: Esra Kurum (University of California Riverside) Speakers: (left to right) Simone Gray (CDC), Sylva Collins (FDA) and Paul Albert (NIH).

On Wednesday, March 11 three senior statisticians, Simone Gray from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Sylva Collins from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Paul Albert from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) talked about their own career experiences working in statistics. 

It became clear right away that working within the government is very different than working in an industry or commercial setting, and also different than working in academia.  The unique mission that government employees are charged with, to inform policy that surround health issues, disease prevention, and health research, drives the types of problems that they are challenged with, the data they collect not to mention the importance of the research they engage in. 

Simone Gray (CDC) started by talking about her own journey, a brief history of the CDC and the focus of the CDC's mission.  This led to a thorough review of the types of positions that statisticians find themselves working in at CDC with mention of the career paths these lead to.  More importantly, Simone comments included her own advice for students and others about preparing their own approach to the job market, finding a match to one's own personal preferences and the types opportunities that exist at CDC.

Sylva Collins (FDA) based her comments on her wealth of experience in the pharmaceutical industry and her recent experience at the FDA.  Sylva began by providing a brief history of the FDA and the role of the FDA.   Her current responsibilities as Director, Office of Biostatistics at FDA in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research involve leading all aspects of the statistical review of regulatory applications for new drugs, therapeutic biologics, generic drugs and biosimilars. Sylva described the roles that statisticians play and the career opportunities at the FDA.

As part of her own personal advice, Sylva described the Office of Biostatistics as a very rewarding place to deploy skills in biostatistics. It offers the opportunity to apply the most sophisticated techniques in statistical analysis and to develop fundamentally new statistical approaches. Our statisticians serve to protect the American public by ensuring that safe and effective drugs are available.

She highlighted the ORISE summer internship program for advanced PhD graduate students.  The program offers a great opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience with regulatory research projects under the guidance of an expert mentor, to address statistical problems in a stimulating and collaborative environment.

Please Note: The recording of her presentation is not available.  Her presentation slides are linked below.

Paul Albert (NIH) was the final speaker of the session.  Paul took a few moments to describe how the 27 different institutes at the NIH are organized.  He followed this with a look at his own career path which began in 1988.  From this vast experience base he described the opportunities at NIH distinguishing differences between extramural positions, those that support research at major universities and research centers, versus intramural positions, independent initiated methodological and collaborative research programs (can be thought of as University at the NIH!).  Perhaps the most valued part of Paul's comments, and from all of the speakers for that matter, was their personal advice and suggestions for students who are trying to find their way in taking this first big professional step!  "Look for a place that will broaden your horizon!" 

Esra Kurum, (University of California Riverside) served as the moderator for this session.  She helped present a number of questions that were asked by NISS Affiliate attendees and there was quite a bit of additional comments, advice and guidance that was shared at the end of the session.

Below you can find a recording of this session along with copies of the slides that the speakers used. The slides not only provide you with the key points that were offered but also include links to additional resources that should not be ignored!  (These are made available here for NISS Affiliates.  They will be made available to the public April 11, 2020.)

Event Recording

Slides Used by Speakers

These include lots of links to resources for career opportunities for statisticians in government.

Simone Gray: "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services"

Sylva Collins: "Career Opportunities at the FDA"

Paul Albert: "2nd NISS Virtual Career Fair: NCI/NIH"

Thursday, March 12, 2020 by Glenn Johnson