Virginia Tech’s Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis (LISA), in the Department of Statistics, received notification in February of a $40,000 grant as part of the Google Research Awards program. The grant funding from Google will help the department provide a mentored experience for a foreign statistician to collaborate with researchers at Virginia Tech in fields such as agriculture, engineering, business, and social science.

Eric Vance, assistant research professor in the Department of Statistics and director of the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis, is the principal investigator for the project “Building statistics capacity in developing countries by educating and training statisticians to communicate and collaborate with non-statisticians.”

The research award will fund the education and training of one statistician for one year. “Initially, the LISA Fellow will be here at Virginia Tech for one year,” Vance said. “They will be trained in our laboratory and to collaborate with non-statisticians. They will then go back to their home university to create a statistical collaboration laboratory that will work under local conditions based on their experience with the LISA model.

“One technically sound statistician who is trained to effectively communicate and collaborate can enable 50 or more research projects per year,” said Vance. “Those research projects can have a positive impact on thousands of people. This impact is increased by training statisticians who are local, who have a relationship with researchers, and who know what data have been collected or can realistically be collected. A statistician who lives in and around the area of research has a better understanding of what those data really mean and how they can be appropriately analyzed. This kind of local statistician has a vested interest in helping to solve the research problem for the benefit of society.”

Because modern research creates such large amounts of data across the fields of science, social science, and the humanities, statisticians are needed who can devise methods to guide experimental design and data analysis to make sense of all that information.

“Our goal is to train at least 20 statisticians to create a network of 20 statistical laboratories in developing countries by 2020,” Vance said. “It’s ambitious, but it’s attainable and funding from companies like Google help advance this goal. We will unlock the collaborative potential of a technically trained statistician, who in turn will unlock the research potential of their collaborators and teach other statisticians to do likewise. These research collaborators, now with the power of statistical thinking open to them, will be key to improving human welfare worldwide.”