Q & A with new faculty member Dr. Shira Dunsiger

Shira I. Dunsiger, PhD, joined the Center for Health Equity Research on October 1, having previously served as a research scientist/statistician at The Miriam Hospital. Already a familiar face from her collaboration on projects with Brown Medical School and Brown School of Public Health, she is a welcome addition to the Center. Here she shares some background on her public health interests and current work.

What experience led you to pursue a career in public health?

I was a candy striper in high school and my job was to deliver snacks and reading material to patients and families in the cardiac ward. I like to think we delivered some joy as well.  One particular patient used to enjoy chatting over his daily magazine purchase (he loved a good People magazine!). He would tell stories of his grandkids and his experiences in the automobile plant in which worked. Towards the end, he would offer advice for life. One particular day he talked about what he would do if he could go back in time.  I remember it like it was yesterday. He said “I’d sit in the park more, I’d say yes more often than no, and I would prevent what got me here.” Over the years that has stuck with me. Prevention.  It is something we can control and work towards and something that can change a life. 

What are your broad research interests?

I am interested in developing statistical methodology that is particularly suited to high-dimensional behavioral, physiological, and psychological data. I have a particular interest in identifying patterns of change in behavioral and medical data and using these patterns as alternative outcomes in longitudinal studies. 

What are some of the research projects you are working on?

I have the privilege of working on numerous RCT’s aimed at identifying the efficacy of theory-based interventions on behavioral (e.g., physical activity, smoking, weight loss, sleep, and violence) and psychological (e.g., mood, stress, depression) outcomes. To me, supporting studies provides the inspiration for my own work. I have just concluded a big data pilot study aimed at identifying patterns of change in heart rate variability in response to exercise. This was a study that yielded 21 million responses longitudinally over 12 weeks. 

How do you see your work affecting public health policy/practice?

Perhaps Karl Pearson said it best, “Statistics are the grammar of science.”