â€śMy research is about using statistics to determine biological networks,â€ť explained Christine Peterson, who earned a Ph.D. in statistics from Rice in 2013.
She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University and earned her Ph.D. in statistics from Rice, working with Department of Statistics chair Marina Vannucci. â€śFor example, I use statistical methods to understand how protein interaction networks are disrupted by different types of cancer.â€ť Her work recently earned her the Savage Award for the best Ph.D. thesis in applied Bayesian statistics. The award is presented by the International Society for Bayesian Analysis, whose mission is to promote the development and application of Bayesian statistical methods in the solution of theoretical and applied problems in various fields. Each year, two awards for outstanding doctoral dissertations are given, one in Theory and Methods, and the other, won by Peterson, in Applied Methodology. All finalists for the award were invited to speak at the Joint Statistical Meetings, the largest statistics conference, in Seattle in August.
â€śI was honored by this award and it was a pleasure to present my research,â€ť said Peterson, who was recognized for her thesis "Bayesian graphical models for biological network inference.â€ť â€śBayesian statistics is an important tool in addressing complex biological problems since it allows us to incorporate reference information or prior knowledge about the problem structure when performing statistical inference.â€ť
Peterson, a native Houstonian, came to Rice after earning her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2005 and working in software development at Microsoft. She has always been interested in meaningful ways to use applied math, and Riceâ€™s proximity to the Texas Medical Center presented multiple opportunities for that.
â€śI collaborated with researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and MD Anderson to develop modern statistical methods in the Bayesian framework for learning about biological networks,â€ť she explained. â€śFor example, I studied the network of metabolic compounds involved in neuroinflammation. I also estimated protein signaling networks for various types of acute myeloid leukemia. Seeing how these molecules interact under different situations could help doctors develop more reliable courses of treatment.â€ť
She praised Riceâ€™s collaborative environment and said that Professor Vannucci was an excellent thesis director. â€śDr. Vannucci has been a great professional mentor, sponsor and role model to me in developing my career in statistics.â€ť
As she finishes up her tenure at Stanford, Peterson plans to continue biostatistical research in analyzing big data to enable advances in medicine.
May 4, 2016