Math + Medicine: Combined interests lead to new career path for WVU Public Health student

Faculty mentorship and cross-campus collaboration have played an important role in John Twist’s experience at West Virginia University. The School of Public Health student is set to graduate in May after combining his skills in mathematics with an interest in serving communities.

Initially considering a career in engineering, John’s undergraduate studies inspired him to explore experiment design and its use in clinical trials and the pharmaceutical industry. Ultimately, he decided to pursue a Master of Science in Biostatistics after realizing the benefit of utilizing his background in industrial mathematics and statistics for a career in public health. The graduate program has given him an opportunity to apply his interest in analytics and computational methods to research in health and medicine.

“I knew it was the right fit for me as I did not consider what I was doing work, but rather something I enjoyed,” he said. “I saw there was a benefit in what I could do using my knowledge of statistics. It reached beyond just theory and allowed me to learn applicable methods to help investigators analyze and interpret results.”

While pursuing his undergraduate degree, John had several mentors including Kenneth Ryan, Ph.D., professor and associate director of statistics in the School of Mathematical and Data Sciences, who shared his experiences as a statistician and as a student with John and helped to guide him in his academic journey.

“He was the one who showed me the value of statistics and made me fall in love with the subject,” John said.

Caroline Groth, Ph.D., director of the Master of Science in Biostatistics program and assistant professor, and Sijin Wen, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, have been important mentors during his time in the School of Public Health.

“Dr. Groth helped me understand the difference between a biostatistician and a statistician as well as guided me through the program,” he said. “She has been a constant support for me when I’ve struggled and given me opportunities to act on. Dr. Groth has been instrumental in my desire for a higher degree, such as a doctoral program.

“Dr. Sijin Wen has helped me learn what statistics are in real life, outside of the classroom. His explanation of what is realistic versus what is truly theoretical has been valuable insight on why certain work is done. Overall, he has enhanced my ability to learn in the classroom and independently.”

John’s practicum experience with a research project supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources provided him with the opportunity to conduct a data analysis on the connection between SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater and hospital cases. His project, completed in tandem with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Public Health Training Center, included data manipulation, data visualization and other tasks with descriptive data analysis to create models used for identifying communities of concern.

Following graduation, John plans to complete a doctoral program in statistics with the goal of working in the pharmaceutical industry as a statistician focused on experiments or clinical trials.

“I will miss the faculty at WVU and the other connections I’ve made here,” he said. “I will remember that this is the university that molded me into the person I am now. It is the university that sparked my love for statistics.”



MEDIA CONTACT: Lindsay Wiles
Director of Marketing and Communications
WVU School of Public Health