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What do you do?

Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where I work with Professor Curtis Huttenhower on developing computational and statistical methods for microbial community and human microbiome translational research.

GS: Can you tell us about yourself? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

HM: I have a background in mathematical statistics, having obtained my Bachelor’s from University of Cacutta and Master’s degree from IIT Kanpur,  two mathematically rigorous institutions in India.  I majored in Statistics at both graduate and undergraduate levels with minors in Economics and Mathematics. When I was planning to pursue my doctoral education, my topmost priority was to do meaningful research, which is not only mathematically sound but also practically useful. In particular, I wanted to work in a multidisciplinary environment with opportunities to collaborate with professionals in other scientific disciplines.

Where did you end up after your Master’s in statistics?

I found the Department of Biostatistics at UAB, which is ranked among the 20 leading Biostatistics departments in the country, as the perfect academic and training environment for a mathematical statistician to grow as a researcher by addressing real-world problems in biomedical sciences with innovative statistical methodologies. In addition, I was fascinated by the resources available at UAB for a young statistician excited about doing methodological research. Therefore, accepting an offer to pursue doctoral degree at UAB was a very easy decision.

GS: What has been your experience at UAB?

HM: My most rewarding experience at UAB has been working as the primary statistician for multiple projects in the medical school, where I was responsible for accurate and timely completion of data managements and statistical analyses through sound collaboration with the physicians and biologists, all in the absence of my advisor, committee, or other fellow graduate students. Many of these projects have resulted in high-quality journal publications, paving my path as an independent and collaborative scientist.

GS: Who was your greatest influence and why?

HM: My greatest influence on campus at UAB has been my advisor Dr. Nengjun Yi.  He has guided me since my first year in the department, consistently providing me timely suggestions, encouragement, and support. I feel very fortunate to have him as my mentor and advisor. Drs. David Allison, Leslie McClure, David Redden, and Hemant Tiwari, who have inspired me on various occasions in and out of the classroom, have also had a strong influence on my graduate training. In addition, my internship advisors Dr. Ming Li (Indiana University Bloomington), Dr. Peter Mesenbrink (Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation), and Dr. Lindsay Renfro (Mayo Clinic) have influenced me tremendously through their guidance during my three fruitful summer internships.

GS: What is your motivation in your academics/research?

HM: Statistics is the driving force behind the ongoing ‘big data’ movement. Over the past decade, with the emergence of more and more complex data in varied scientific disciplines, an intense urge to embrace advanced statistical techniques has been envisioned within the statistical community. Naturally, there is an ever-increasing demand of statisticians to address new and emerging problems that are incredibly complicated. This is where I want to see my role as a future statistician, providing well-defined solutions to wicked real life problems. My long-term goal is to become a researcher whose work will be appreciated for its profound applicability and practical value, achieved through both independent and collaborative scholarly activities. To achieve this, I intend to continue my work on novel statistical methodology development in conjunction with my collaborative research in biomedical sciences.

GS: What are your plans after graduating and for the future?

HM: Upon graduation, I will be joining the lab of Professor Curtis Huttenhower in the Department of Biostatistics at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health as a postdoctoral research associate. I will also hold an appointment at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. After my postdoctoral research, I plan to begin my career as a data scientist in a vibrant research-oriented organization.

GS: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

HM: I am deeply appreciative of several individuals who in one way or another contributed toward my development as a scientist and a human being. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all. First, I would like to thank all my teachers who shaped my life starting from kindergarten through graduate school. I would like to thank all my collaborators at UAB and numerous great friends whom I met during these years in India and USA. I am forever grateful to my parents and family members for standing by me in good and trying times. Finally, I thank my wife for her unconditional support that helped me smoothly sail through this journey.

GS: What advice would you offer to other graduate students?

HM: Graduate student life is the best time to develop new skills to shape your future. Start growing up while you are still at the graduate school, not after you graduate. Always seek out new perspectives and pinpoint some areas you need to improve and be prepared to challenge yourself to get the best results. It’s important to embrace your mistakes and failures, learn from them, and keep going. Take advantage of all the opportunities that UAB and the greater Birmingham area have to offer. Look for other collaboration opportunities in and outside of UAB by attending conferences and seminars. Get involved in other professional activities (e.g. reviewing research articles, joining professional organizations, chairing sessions at conferences, etc.) that are beyond the scope of your graduate training. Surround yourself with people who make you feel blessed. Make friends and have time for family. Above all, do not let negativity affect your mind and make a promise to become positive & live a more fulfilled and less stressful life.