Maths and numbers

Big data is in. It’s in vogue. Data science has been touted as the sexiest career of the 21st century.

James Mburu loves numbers. He is currently a statistician for a Contract Research Organisation (CRO) that offers statistical consultancy amidst other services such as clinical trial reporting, medical writing and data management services.

He did his undergraduate studies at Moi University in Applied Statistics with computing. He later undertook an MSc in Statistics with a biostatistics bias from Hasselt University.

“A biostatistician tries to apply statistical concepts to help answer biological questions. Every data collected always has a story to tell and the correct concepts need to be applied to make precise deductions” he explains.

The statistical analysis process involves getting to understand the question of interest by reading relevant documentation then cleaning the data- ensuring it is sensible and there aren’t for example, men diagnosed as pregnant. This is then followed by running exploratory data analysis to have a better understanding of the data and eventually running the appropriate analysis. Different data structures and data designs call for different approaches so you ensure that you use the most suitable.

Previously, he was a senior statistician at KEMRI where he was involved in several clinical projects. One of his most memorable ones was looking at the effect of introduction of a pneumonia vaccine for children under five year olds. Through their data analysis, they determined the trend of pneumonia related hospital admissions post-vaccine relative to the pre-vaccine era; whether the pneumonia related mortality had reduced and if this could be attributed to the vaccine introduction. They also assessed clinical symptoms that could be traced back to the vaccine’s effects.

He was also part of an ongoing study that was trying to understand which parasite proteins are responsible for malaria resistance in humans – as some people can become resistant to malaria. By using them as clinical trial volunteers, they could extract information that would help contribute to the development of a malaria vaccine.

James’ advice to current or future statistics student out there is to take the initiative and learn a statistical language. He advocates for R: it’s the posh car everyone wants to drive. When asked if he had to choose a career again, he says “I would still choose to be a statistician. Some may say the math learning curve is steep but it’s an enjoyable challenge that is anything but monotonous’’. “The diversity of statistics keep you relevant in any industry since they all have data that they need to accurately make sense of’’, he adds. When not fact checking numbers and running code, he unwinds with playing a game of football and does photography.

He signed off with a witty remark from W. Edwards Deming ‘’In God we trust, all other must bring data’’ .

Image credit: Indiana University- Purdue

San Jose State University