Who are we?
The Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design (BERD) Methods Core is a team of faculty and staff methodologists with diverse and extensive experience in conducting a broad range of research projects. In order to train and prepare master’s students in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics (B&B) to excel beyond their coursework and to be well-qualified biostatisticians immediately after graduation, the Core faculty and staff developed the Biostatistics Core Training & Internship Program (BCTIP). The BERD Core has been actively facilitating the program since 2013 by providing hands-on team-science experience and statistical guidance.
How to apply?
BCTIP is currently only open to Masters students in the Biostatistics and Bioinformatics program. Students are recruited and enrolled twice per year through a competitive application and interview process. In the fall and spring of each year, the Core collects requests for intern support from the faculty and staff in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, and then distributes the position postings to the students, who are required to submit a cover letter and CV to be considered. After a careful review of all application materials, select students may undergo several rounds of interviews before ultimately being offered the intern position or declined.
All BCTIP new hires are required to participate in 6-12 weeks of training led by the Core staff, including an orientation and directed sessions on collaboration and communication, coding and data manipulation in SAS and R, creating statistical analysis plans (SAPs), creating results reports and summarizing findings, writing statistical methods sections for manuscripts, and file organization and version control. Starting in 2019, all BCTIP interns are also required to attend data science training sessions held by the Health Data Science Internship program (more on this collaboration later).
Interns undergo 12-18 months of real collaborative experience that includes working directly with staff/faulty biostatisticians and clinicians in designing and analyzing medical studies. Depending on positions open and personal field of interest, interns are assigned to different clinical research units at Duke University and may work in the Duke Cancer Institute (DCI), Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), or Center for Aids Research (CFAR). Through the real-applied experience with residents, clinicians and faculty in these research units, interns are involved in every aspect of the research process from initial meetings with investigators, to study design, to analysis, to writing statistical reports and manuscript review. Each fall, the interns are required to give a 20-minute presentation of their work to B&B faculty/staff and their clinical investigators are invited. B&B master’s students are welcome to incorporate their required master’s thesis into their internship work if the consent is granted from their supervisors and collaborators.
Throughout the program, BCTIP coordinators closely monitor internship collaborations to ensure all students and supervisors understand expectations, as well as mentor all interns as needed, on topics including resume creation, interview preparation, interpersonal relationships, etc., in addition to statistical development. Interns are required to submit weekly task lists to their supervisors, and a monthly progress report to the BCTIP coordinators, who review the content and provide feedback or intervene as needed. Quarterly meetings are arranged to provide the interns with a face-to-face opportunity to share their internship experience and concerns with their fellow interns and the program coordinators.
Future Work and Collaboration with Other Programs
Over the last six years, BCTIP has successfully trained >60 students with 100% job placement or PhD program enrollment. Leadership has identified that as research becomes more and more collaborative, there is going to be a major need to train our students to do cross-disciplinary work. As such, BCTIP is working to create a larger-scale training program spanning many quantitative areas. Since January 2018, BCTIP has been working with the recently-established Health Data Science (HDS) Internship program to set up a collaborative internship model, and now HDS engages with BCTIP to share resources and enhance both programs. This allows BCTIP access to some of the HDS trainings. Additionally, it allows BCTIP to offer trainings to any of the Master’s students in any quantitative discipline who are eligible to apply for the HDS internship program. For students who apply to both programs, joint interviews are conducted that include staff from both BCTIP and HDS, and hiring decisions are made collectively. Students enrolled in both programs are required to complete the same series of training sessions, however, the two programs aim at providing internship experience of different perspectives of quantitative research. Specifically, the HDS interns are more focused on health data science research utilizing machine learning methods in programming software such as Python and R, while the BCTIP interns are exposed to various topics in Biostatistics and Bioinformatics research, such as clinical trial and survey design, gene sequencing studies, and survival analysis, and primarily use SAS and R statistical software. BCTIP and HDS program coordinators work closely to ensure the success of this joint venture. A future goal of BCTIP is to make our trainings openly available online and to deploy this model to other CTSA institutions.