Attending ISBA 2022 as a Duke Undergraduate

Professors Herring and Banks watch Jenny Huang explain a graphic detail on a research poster at ISBA 2022 conference in Montreal.

Jenny Huang – StatSci BS, Class of 2023

July 26, 2022

A common complaint I hear among undergrads is that research can feel like an “isolating” experience: at times, reading papers and running code in front of a computer screen can feel like talking into a wall. I think a large reason for this misconception is that, as undergraduates, we aren’t always getting the opportunities to talk to people in the field. In truth, research is a very collaborative endeavor. Original ideas don’t just appear in a vacuum; each person stands on the shoulders of giants.

The ISBA World Meeting was an opportunity to view my research as part of an ongoing scientific conversation. Getting to meet the faces behind the papers was a paradigm-shifting experience.

On the first day, I attended a short course in Bayesian modelling of epidemics. We covered Bayesian inference for mechanistic models, starting from the classic ODE-based SIR models to individual-level spatial and network-based models. The course introduced me to new R packages for fitting customizable models and to new ideas for assessing policy interventions. As the instructors were interested in modeling interventions, I got a chance to share my work with them. The experience was a good reflection on how much I had learned and what I should look at next. Finally, I’m proud to say that we were the annoying ones asking the most questions in class!

ISBA was also an opportunity to get a high-level view of the current state of the field and to scope out what classes I should take next. From talks on model selection to optimal experimental design to robustness to data-dropping, I left Montreal with a list of new ideas and papers to look into.

Apart from the learning, the trip was a great chance to spend time with friends, professors, and PhD students. Duke is very lucky to have such collaborative and supportive individuals!

In an ideal world, we should all have access to such concentrated hubs of thinking on a daily basis, a “Bell Labs”- esque environment if you will. There are so many beautiful ideas in the world of statistics to be learned, and conferences seem to be a great appetizer platter. I would recommend any students interested in research to look into these opportunities or take a look at talks from previous conferences.

For me, ISBA 2022 was a glimpse into the world of Bayesian statistics, made possible by the generous support from the Duke Statistical Science Department!

Jenny Huang, a member of the Class of 2023, is a Statistical Science and Computer Science double major, who is also minoring in Mathematics.