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Himmelfarb Headlines - September / October 2019

Faculty Profile - Interview with Sam Simmens, Research Professor; Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology

Faculty Profile - Interview with Sam Simmens, Research Professor; Department of Biostatistics and EpidemiologyHimmelfarb Library continues this feature in our newsletter that lets us become better acquainted with our friends and colleagues at the George Washington University. In this issue, we learn more about Sam Simmens, Research Professor; Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your current position, and why you decided to pursue a career in your field.
I'm a Research Professor, now in the new Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology and I direct the GW Biostatistics and Epidemiology Consulting Service, known as "The BECS."

How did you become interested in your field?
I started off as a research-oriented community psychologist and realized early on that statistical methods were one of the best tools for moving beyond anecdotes to strong evidence. It's difficult to be unbiased in our scientific observations; statistics done well help us minimize those biases. Many of the same statistical methods are used in public health and medicine as in the social and behavioral sciences, so it was an easy transition for me to move beyond behavioral sciences research to biostatistics.

What brought you to GW?
When I went for my job interviews at GW, I was told that there was a great deal of interest in health research, but that many potential investigators felt hampered in their research because little statistical support was available to them. It became clear to me GW was a place where there was widespread appreciation of the importance of statistics, while opportunities would grow over time. This was many years ago, and it turns out that my observations were well-founded.

What has been your biggest professional challenge?
The field of biostatistics has many growth areas involving somewhat specialized knowledge, and this is also true of statistical methods in allied fields such as epidemiology, data science, and bioinformatics, as well as with statistical data management and software solutions. As someone who helps researchers in multiple fields, I feel it's important to follow trends in these fields. But of course finding time to follow these areas even superficially is a challenge.

What library resources or services have you found to be the most useful?
I frequently browse through the contents of cutting edge journals oriented towards applied biostatistics, such as "Statistics in Medicine." But when I'm consulting on a project regarding a public health or medical topic, I often read journal articles on those topics. That helps me be a more effective collaborator on a project. In addition, I use interlibrary loan to read chapters on certain statistical methods that I'm considering using for a study. And I've also used interlibrary loan to request video materials for use in a course that I teach.

Whom do you admire?
Let's just say that I admire a long list of people who share my values and who manage in some way, even a very small way, to uplift humanity.

How do you spend your free time? (or What do you do to relax?)
One of my favorites is exploring DC area neighborhoods and small towns, both popular touristy areas as well as less well known areas that have their own unique feel and history.

What advice would you give to a new faculty member just starting at GW?
At least when first starting, stay on campus as much as possible so as to get to know our students, staff, and other faculty. Technology has made it relatively easy to do much of our work remotely, but the tradeoff is feeling less connected to our academic community. Having a formal academic mentor is ideal, but finding multiple informal mentors can be very helpful as well.

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