Dana Udwin

Dana Udwin
PhD in Biostatistics ’22


Undergraduate Institution: Smith College

Why did you choose the Brown University School of Public Health?
Public health is a cross-disciplinary field that bridges the gap between practiced medicine and quantitative tools. The Brown University School of Public Health takes this literally. Our building is situated between the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and main campus, where the likes of Applied Mathematics and Computational Biology reside. This tipped me off to the spirit of collaboration here at Brown University. On a smaller scale, the warmth and camaraderie between departments and within my own Biostatistics hub was palpable from my first visit.

What makes Brown's program different from other programs you considered?
Besides providing stellar applied and theoretical statistical training, Brown Biostatistics is uniquely supportive. The high ratio of professors to students guarantees access, collegiality and exposure to a breadth of research areas. There is no competition. The students lift one another up, and knowledgeable, tireless staff keep the gears turning.

What do you enjoy most about your program?
The students are a tight-knit bunch. Every Monday we convene for Journal Club and discuss a paper over pizza. Less formally, a peer might pop their head over your cubicle divider to ask a question about debugging code or a derivation, and thank you with a round of pool at the Graduate Center Bar. The academics and research are top-notch, but the people make it.

What is your academic area of interest and why?
I focus on interpretability in machine learning. Our understanding of black-box models needs to keep pace with their widespread adoption. This is a public health concern — e.g. deep learning methods can identify a necrotic region in a brain scan, but it is important to confirm that artifacts in the training data are not inflating performance — as well as a matter of transparent and reliable technology and algorithmic fairness.

What are your postgraduate goals/plans?
I will pursue a teaching-focused faculty position. I plan to give back to the academic community that got me started in this field and continues to encourage me.

Why Providence?
Providence has all the culture and opportunity of a bustling urban center with the affordability and feel of a leafy suburb. The city is bisected by Providence River, which the School of Public Health overlooks. Students enjoy beautiful views while they work and have a choice of living west of the river — downtown nearer nightlife and the mouthwatering Italian offerings of Federal Hill — or east of the river among ivy-covered historic houses, independent coffee shops and public parks.

What advice would you give to prospective applicants?
There are many programs that boast strong research and academics. Filter for programs that also provide support, from the first-year coursework to the qualifying exam and dissertation-writing process. Check what proportion of entrants graduate and in what period of time. Speak with current students one-on-one. See if alumni achieve the type of post-graduate roles you want. Privilege the rest of your life: while you will commit part of your day to graduate study, the rest will go to pursuing hobbies and spending time with loved ones. Pick a place where you will be happy living. There is more than one right choice. Lastly, you are so, so capable. If you are reading this, you are already practicing the secret to success: accepting help.