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Arnold School of Public Health

  • Xiaowen Sun

I Am Public Health: Xiaowen Sun

July 1, 2024 | Erin Bluvas,

Xiaowen Sun discovered her love of biostatistics and public health during her master’s program. She had already studied mathematics for her bachelor's degree, and graduate school taught Sun new ways to apply what she had learned.

Originally from China, Sun grew up in Zibo – a city famous for its BBQ. The Zibo BBQ Association tallied more than 1,270 BBQ restaurants at last count, and the city hosts hundreds of thousands of hungry customers at its local food markets during seasonal festivals.

The move was not a big leap for Sun when she decided to attend Shandong University of Technology for her undergraduate studies, but her next step would take her across the world. At the University of Missouri in the United States, Sun enrolled in a master’s program focused on statistics.

I knew that USC's biostatistics program would provide me with the skills, knowledge and connections necessary to advance my career in clinical research and public health.

Xiaowen Sun

“My fascination with public health and biostatistics began during my master’s studies, where I was first introduced to statistical methods and their applications in real-world problems,” she says. “I was particularly drawn to survival analysis due to its critical role in medical research and public health.”

Her coursework and research projects led Sun to discover the potential of machine learning and deep learning to revolutionize data analysis. She was intrigued by the abilities of these methods to work with large-volume data sets that were high dimensional and non-linear. The application of these methods to help solve complex health care challenges cemented her commitment to the field.

Sun chose the Arnold School’s Ph.D. in Biostatistics program to elevate her analytical skills in clinical research. The curriculum was the perfect fit for her interests, and the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics offered numerous opportunities to be involved in varied projects led by enthusiastic faculty.

Xiaowen Sun
Xiaowen Sun is a candidate in the Ph.D. in Biostatistics program. 

“The program’s focus on hands-on projects and real-world applications was highly appealing, and its reputation and the strong network of alumni also played a crucial role in my decision,” Sun says. “I knew that USC's biostatistics program would provide me with the skills, knowledge and connections necessary to advance my career in clinical research and public health.”

She found a mentor in her dissertation advisor, biostatistics professor Jiajia Zhang.

“Under her guidance, I have gained a deep understanding of advanced statistical methodologies and their applications in public health research,” Sun says. “She taught me how to approach complex data problems with a meticulous and analytical mindset, ensuring precision and accuracy in my work. Moreover, Dr. Zhang has provided invaluable career advice, helping me to set and achieve my professional goals.”

As a graduate research assistant with the South Carolina SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality, Sun amassed the research experience she was looking for by contributing to collaborative projects. She also spent a summer interning at Novartis with the pharmaceutical company’s immunology department.

Since last fall, Sun has been working at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas as a research biostatistician. She will wrap up her dissertation research over the next several months and plans to graduate later this year.

“My degree from USC has equipped me with a comprehensive understanding of biostatistics and its applications in clinical research,” Sun says. “The advanced coursework and hands-on projects have significantly enhanced my analytical skills, enabling me to tackle complex data challenges effectively.”

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