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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Chelsea Deroche

June 1, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, 

Chelsea Deroche is more than ready to step into the role of assistant professor in her new tenure-track position in the Biostatistics Research and Design Unit at the University of Missouri School of Medicine this fall. A May graduate with a Doctor of Philosophy in biostatistics, Deroche’s time at the Arnold School of Public Health has undoubtedly prepared her for this new chapter. “I am looking forward to continuing teaching, doing my own research and collaborating with other researchers,” she says.

A fan of math since she was seven years old, Deroche fell in love with statistics her senior year at Nicholls State University, a small school just 30 minutes from her hometown of Houma, Louisiana. “Statistics is challenging, intriguing and proves itself to be useful and applicable in many areas of research,” she says. It was during this time that Deroche attended a job fair and learned about biostatistics and its connection to public health. “I love the idea of taking statistics and applying it to a field that is focused on prevention of disease, improving health, and in general, just helping people,” she says. “I enjoy designing studies and analyzing data from research problems while knowing that I am helping advance research in many fields.”

Deroche went on to earn her masters’ degree in applied statistics at Louisiana State University where she taught undergraduate and graduate courses and consulted on various areas of research (e.g., biology, anthropology, primatology, bee genetics, agriculture, medicine, political science). She then spent a year teaching mathematics and statistics to undergrads at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for a year before setting her sights on the Arnold School for her doctoral program.

“USC has a lot of collaborative opportunities and a bunch of great faculty doing wonderful things in the public health field,” Deroche says. “I knew I needed more research experience, and the Arnold School offered that environment to me.” Over time, her research interests have evolved to include generalized linear models, generalized estimating equations, statistical genetics, survival analysis and developing accessible statistical software packages for researchers. But that’s not all that has happened during her time here.

Since joining the Arnold School, Deroche has co-authored four published manuscripts. She also has three manuscripts under review and five more in progress. Altogether, she is first author on nine of these papers. Deroche is a member of the American Public Health Association and several statistical organizations, such as American Statistical Association and the Institute for Mathematical Sciences. She was awarded the Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellowship two years in a row. This year alone she won the biostatistics award from her Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics as well as the S.C. Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Long Term Trainee Fellowship, which is a training program geared towards helping to improve the health of infants, children and adolescents with disabilities by educating child health professionals and interdisciplinary researchers. Deroche also works with an epidemiologist who focuses her research in maternal and child health and disability epidemiology and consults with researchers at the USC School of Medicine.

Deroche’s Arnold School experience was rich in mentorship as well. She was able to learn a lot about the research process, grant writing and all of the steps involved in publishing manuscripts by serving as a graduate research assistant for Suzanne McDermott. “Working with Dr. McDermott strengthened my research skills and opened my eyes to the statistical needs of researchers,” Deroche says.

Her dissertation chair, James Hardin, influenced Deroche to take newly developed methods and make them easily accessible to researchers. “Through his mentorship, I strengthened my statistical writing skills and consulting ability,” she says. “I am extremely grateful to these two mentors for the numerous hours they invested in me.”

To prospective students, Deroche recommends public health programs as the best way to work toward making an impact on our population’s health and wellbeing. “Once you get into a program, it is important to make connections with your professors as soon as possible because they are the people who will help you transform from a student to a researcher,” she says. “Do not be afraid to talk to them early on in your program and learn about their research interests and what kind of work they are doing; it is important to find a strong mentor who will challenge you and make you a better person.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.