Rork Kuick (1958-2020)

Rork KuickRork Kuick passed away on May 30th 2020. He was much loved and respected by his colleagues and his premature death has greatly saddened us.

Rork spent his entire professional career at the University of Michigan. He obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics in 1979 and his Master of Arts in Statistics in 1983.

He was a research assistant in the Department of Human Genetics early in his career, where he helped derive the mathematics for “measured genotype” models and fit those models to data on lipid levels.

He was a valued member of the Department of Pediatrics for 21 years, working closely with Sam Hanash and others on algorithms and their user interfaces for measuring, matching, and normalizing spots on proteins separated by 2D gel electrophoresis, which are used to detect molecular changes in cancer and aging.

As microarray and other gene expression technologies grew in popularity, he developed and mastered the techniques for analyzing the large-scale data from such assays and was arguably the first to publish a gene enrichment test using microarray data.

From 2006 up until his death, Rork worked as a statistician and bioinformatician in the Department of Biostatistics, affiliated with the Biostatistics Unit of the Cancer Center.

He became an invaluable collaborator with many Cancer Center research labs, including those of Kathy Cho, Thomas Wang, Eric Fearon, Mark Chiang, Jeff Rual, David Beer, Tom Giordano, Gary Hammer, Bill Rainey and Daniel Lucas. Ever the autodidact, Rork was always learning, keeping up-to-date on the advancing science and technology used in their labs. His understanding of cancer biology was expansive, and his experimental designs reflected this mastery of the science.

Rork’s job title was Statistician Expert, which is an apt description of his professional life: he had both the quantitative expertise and the technical know-how for using the tools to perform rigorous, valid analyses.

 Equally comfortable conversing with basic scientists as he was with statisticians, Rork was just as much the former as he was the latter. Sometimes, his colleagues wondered whether Rork was a scientist who knew statistics or a statistician who knew science. His knowledge and skill set were extraordinarily unique, and he was truly an exceptional scientific researcher.

Rork had a tremendous commitment to rigor. He would never cut corners nor be pressured by deadlines to do less than what he felt was the right and best analysis for the statistical situation. He held his scientific peers to this same level of rigor and was a pioneer in the field of statistical forensics long before it was mainstream. He was skeptical of published research in which the authors did not make available their data source public and did not document how they had performed their experiments or conducted their statistical analyses.

Rork was a co-author on 160 papers, many published in the world's best biomedical and scientific journals. His Google Scholar H-index of 64 and i10-index of 142 indicate he has had an extensive impact on the research community.

Rork was an energetic outdoorsman and naturalist. He loved to be in nature, whether it be searching for wild mushrooms or blueberries, climbing trees with his bow and arrow to hunt deer, or fishing in the Pacific Northwest. He rarely missed the weekly School of Public Health walk in the Arboretum each Tuesday. He was very knowledgeable about native and non-native plants, and he was an enthusiastic gardener, generously filling up the refrigerators at work with produce from his garden to give away. His colleagues learned a great deal of mycology and botany from him.

He had a colorful display on his office door, updated with pictures of his latest mushroom hunt, amusing scientific cartoons, or other rare finds he was excited about. By doing so, he invited those walking by his office to have conversations not only about science but also nature and a way of living. Many people would stop by to chat with him: faculty, staff, and cleaning crew. He welcomed everyone, young and old, regardless of status or importance.

Rork was very generous with his time, always willing to give scientific and statistical advice. He would always invite into his office anyone dropping by looking for guidance or input. His experience and advice were invaluable to many, helping his colleagues interrogate their designs, techniques, analytic approaches, and choices to strive for the highest quality research product possible. He has left an indelible mark on many with whom he has interacted.

Though Rork began to experience pain early this year – eventually attributed to metastatic cancer – he remained engaged with his colleagues and research while he battled his cancer. He is survived by his wife, daughter, mother and brother. He will be deeply missed.