Biostatistics student inspired to make a ‘positive impact on people’s lives’
Rachel Davis took an advanced placement statistics class during her sophomore year of high school and she was instantly hooked.
Math had always been Davis’ favorite subject, so she was intrigued by the immense amount of information one could learn from a dataset. She decided she wanted to use statistics to better the world in some way.
During her first semester at Georgia State University, Davis was awarded the opportunity to work as a research assistant in a public health lab, studying the ways in which children respond to surviving natural disasters.
“Through my experience at the lab, I discovered the significance of biostatistics, and it quickly became clear that I would pursue biostatistics as a career,” said Davis, who grew up in Tyrone, Georgia, about 30 minutes south of Atlanta. “Experiencing the role that data and statistics play in the public health field was a pivotal moment in my academic and career path.”
The summer after her freshman year, she attended the Summer Institute in Biostatistics (SIBS) at North Carolina State University, similar to the Big Data Summer Institute held annually at Michigan Public Health, where she obtained data analysis and statistical programming skills and attended lectures led by a diverse group of faculty, graduate students and industry biostatisticians.
“I had such a remarkable experience as a SIBS student that I decided to apply to more biostatistics programs the next summer,” Davis said. “The summer after my sophomore year, I participated in the Biostatistics Epidemiology Summer Training (BEST) Program at Columbia University, where I studied the effect of physical activity on the association between sedentary behavior and mortality.”
She also had the opportunity to witness transformative lectures by Emma Benn and Jasmine McDonald.
“Both of these women have dedicated their careers to improving the health of racial minorities and to increasing diversity in the field of biostatistics,” Davis said. “Seeing Black women in such a valuable and influential field confirmed my desire to pursue a career in biostatistics and made me realize the value of the unique perspective that I can contribute.
“By attending these two summer programs, I gained valuable insight into the work of biostatisticians and experienced firsthand the exciting world of biostatistics. Biostatistics is a powerful, influential and meaningful field that can have an incredibly positive impact on the world.”
I believe that understanding how to collect and make sense of public health data is both an interesting and important task, and my Michigan training will allow me to apply my skill set to a wide variety of public health problems without forcing me to choose a specific area of focus.”
After graduating from Georgia State University in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a concentration in Statistics, she chose the University of Michigan School of Public Health because she “wanted to learn from world-renowned faculty and study alongside some of the brightest and most talented students from all around the world.”
In addition, as someone who came into graduate school without a specific research area of interest, she was drawn to the wide variety of research topics that Michigan Public Health faculty were involved in, from clinical trials to infectious disease modeling to brain imaging to genetics.
“From my virtual visit day, I could tell that the faculty and staff in the Department of Biostatistics were extremely supportive of students and that students loved being part of this program,” said Davis, who is graduating in spring of 2023 with a Master of Science in Biostatistics. “I was also offered an opportunity to work as a graduate student instructor during my first semester, which allowed me to teach statistics to first-year graduate students who were not part of the Biostatistics program.”
Davis said she is broadly interested in applied biostatistics because there are far too many intriguing public health topics to choose from.
“However, I believe that understanding how to collect and make sense of public health data is both an interesting and important task, and my Michigan training will allow me to apply my skill set to a wide variety of public health problems without forcing me to choose a specific area of focus,” she said. “I can work on anything and everything public health-related, which is part of what draws me to this field.”
After graduation, Davis aspires to work as a statistician or a data analyst for an organization that shares her values and the mission of Michigan Public Health.
“My ultimate career goal is to use biostatistics to make a positive impact on people’s lives,” she said.