Across The Pond: Grady Weyenberg

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By Sarah Schuetze

From Hawaii to Arizona, from Arizona to Kentucky, from Kentucky to Bristol, England…fellow statisticians might consider their colleague Grady Weyenberg’s past and future moves a product of what they call random variation, but they are the steps he’s taken toward his career as a statistician.

Weyenberg recently received his Ph.D. from the Department of Statistics at UK, just weeks before he and his wife Hillary make the move from Lexington to Bristol where Weyenberg will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Bristol.

In the midst of preparing for the defense, Weyenberg and his wife were working on selling cars, getting visas, and getting rid of all electronic devices that can’t be used with the English 230 voltage system (goodbye, hairdryer!).

At the University of Bristol, Weyenberg will be joining the Medical Research Council Integrated Epidemiology Unit (IEU). According to the IEU website, the unit is “Leading the development of causal analysis methods for application in population-based and clinical health sciences.”

The IEU’s medical research was what attracted Weyenberg to the position. One of his options for the future is working in the pharmaceutical industry. He said, “My dissertation research would look good for private industry, but it wasn’t directly applicable. This postdoc is more medicine based,” so it will give him valuable experience.

“My dissertation,” Weyenberg explained, “was on developing statistical methods for analyzing sets of phylogenetic trees,” which are diagrams that show the genetic variations of a species (microorganisms related to plant-pathology, in this case). The data he and his research group analyzed was collected by Professor Christopher Shardl of UK’s Department of Plant Pathology and Daniel Howe from the Gluck Equine Center.

“What we’re trying to do is look through the genomes to identify genes that are different from the other ones. There are a number of ways that that might come about and one of them is what [Shardl] is interested in trying to find,” Weyenberg said.

Professor Ruriko Yoshido chaired Weyenberg’s dissertation committee and led his research group. Department chair Arnold Stromberg also served on the committee and offered Weyenberg advice in his job search. Weyenberg shared that the department manager Tina Howard was also always helpful.

While his research at UK concerned plants, the IEU research team studies people. “The project that I’ll be working on is a longitudinal birth cohort study of people born in 1982 in and around the Bristol area.” The study examines the health and health risks among the specific population.

As a postdoctoral fellow, Weyenberg will be analyzing data and developing computer programs for the research team. He recalls the job advertisement saying, “They wanted a statistician who was trained in data analysis and also a programmer. That’s a good combination of skills to have.” Like many statisticians, Weyenberg learned programming along the way. “It’s not really something you can be taught,” he noted,” you have to just do it.”

The location was another factor that interested Weyenberg in the postdoc. Bristol has a lot to offer—history, public art, outdoor activities, scenery, great food, etc. Until Weyenberg and his wife leave, their goal will be to make sure everything is “ship shape and Bristol fashion” (as the Brits say) for the big move. 

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