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October 23, 2020

Re-imagining Biostatistical Education – A Combined Course in Critical Thinking, Biostatistics, Scientific Writing, Leadership and Team Science, and Rigor, Reproducibility, and Reporting (R3)
By Roger Vaughan, MS, DrPH

For over a decade, Rockefeller has taken a novel approach to biostatistical education in the Clinical Scholars program, by presenting information “from the driver’s seat” perspective rather than through a traditional “bottom up” statistical approach. The biostatistics educational program is ready to pivot again, in content and approach, to acknowledge the simultaneous skill sets necessary to do great science.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the hard and soft skills necessary to conceptualize, operationalize, design, manage, lead, analyze, communicate, and replicate – just a sampling of the skills sets necessary to interrogate a hypothesis, are not applied serially across the life of a project – they are spherical, you need them all, and all at once, at all phases of an investigation, and in a successful research career. The new approach to biostatistical education attempts to respect that reality. As a sphere, there is no ”starting point”, but we use the elements of biostatistics as a jumping in point, and an articulated hypothesis as a scaffold, through which we can develop, experience, and practice the other skills, including critical thinking, team science and leadership, principles of replicability, and clear reporting.
Rather than creating multiple discrete courses to attend to these related and critical skill sets, the re-imagined biostatistics course will employ some proven “flipped classroom” methodology to keep all elements alive as the course progresses. We will first ask the incoming Clinical Scholars to do some basic review over the summer to refresh them on the fundamentals of design and methodology. We will then do a three-day intensive concentrated review of the elements of the inferential method and the bases of statistical tests. At the conclusion of the review, each Scholar will articulate a hypothesis, perhaps one they came to Rockefeller to study, perhaps a practice placeholder. Using this hypothesis, we will then use an ongoing series of individual sessions to: take a deep dive into designs appropriate for their hypotheses; develop a suite of analytic tools necessary to interrogate their hypotheses; understand limitations and meaning of results; describe the results in a way suitable for the Peer Review process, Study Section, or oral communication. We will periodically convene as a group to present to each other our progress, new methodology, results, challenges, and next steps. These will also serve as mock Peer Review and Study Section sessions (better to get beaten up by friends…). Each step will be infused with principles of Rigor, Reproducibility and Team Science.
There are likely no better real world vehicles than following a manuscript through the Peer Review process, or shadowing a grant through the study section process, to practice, hone, and appreciate how important Team Science and Leadership skills are, how essential clear articulation and presentation skills are, and how rock solid methodology and critical thinking is, to advancing science.
We are very excited about the upcoming year.