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Arnold School of Public Health

Doctoral graduate develops new use for biostatistics methods: assessing human exposure to radiation

May 4, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Thomas LaBone knows his specialty like no one else. This health physicist has spent 40 years assessing occupational exposure to radioactive materials – a branch of science known as internal dosimetry. With his latest degree from UofSC (Ph.D. in Biostatistics), LaBone is on the forefront of researchers in his field when it comes to applying Bayesian statistics to internal dosimetry – a goal 25 years in the making.

Originally from New Jersey, LaBone moved to New Hampshire for his first job at a radio-pharmaceutical company after graduating from Rutgers University with an M.S. in Radiological Sciences. In 1986, LaBone moved to Aiken, South Carolina after accepting a position at the Savannah River Site, where he would stay for the next 20 years.

A few years into his role at SRS, LaBone began communicating with researchers applying Bayesian statistics to various projects at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He wanted to incorporate the methods to his own work in internal dosimetry and seized his chance to gain the necessary statistical background when he was offered a position at MJW Corporation in 2006.

“I was blessed to get a new job that offered the flexibility to attend school and work full time, so I enrolled in the master’s in industrial statistics program at the University of South Carolina,” LaBone says. “It was a wonderful program that got me going in the right direction, but I needed more.”

In 2014, LaBone met with clinical associate professor James Hussey (then the chair for the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics) about the Ph.D. in Biostatistics program. After enrolling, LaBone quickly found additional mentors among the faculty, particularly his dissertation committee led by Alexander McLain.

“I especially thank my dissertation advisor for accepting the challenge of teaching an old dog new tricks and not giving up on me,” LaBone says. “I pursued a Ph.D. in an effort to take my game to the next level, and Dr. McLain has been a marvelous coach.”

Twenty-five years after his initial interest in Bayesian statistics was sparked, LaBone completes his degree this month with many new tools in hand. Outlined in his dissertation, LaBone has developed a technique for using Bayesian methods to offer innovative, practical solutions to the challenges posed by internal dosimetry.

LaBone is already applying the approaches he has perfected over the past several years and is looking forward to sharing these methods with the rest of the field. In addition to his consulting role, this education may take the form of teaching as well.

“Develop a good support network of friends, family and facility before starting a Ph.D. program,” advises LaBone, who says his success would not have been possible without his daughters and wife. “It is a marathon, and you will be glad to have help avoiding all the potholes in the road to graduation.”


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