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Applied Analytics Lecturer Selected as a Fellow in the American Statistical Association

If there was ever a statistician who embodied the mission of the American Statistical Association, which is “to promote sound statistical practice to inform public policy and improve human welfare,” it would have to be its most recent honoree, Birol Emir, a lecturer in Columbia’s M.S. in Applied Analytics program. Birol teaches Frameworks and Methods I and II, which guide students through the data-wrangling process and then teach them how to apply these tools to real-world problems. Becoming a fellow in the American Statistical Association (ASA) is a distinction bestowed upon only one third of 1 percent of the total association membership each year. 

This award recognizes his tremendous accomplishments and experience. Birol brings his work experience to the classroom and helps his students translate theory into practical solutions through his emphasis on applying advanced methods to complex, real-world problems.

In a recent chat, he discussed the honor’s potential impact, what his teaching means to him, and how Columbia distinguishes itself as a program in the field of applied analytics.

How do you think this honor contextualizes your scholarship and research? 

Becoming a fellow of the American Statistical Association is a significant honor because it enhances the credibility of my work, increases the visibility of my research, and creates new opportunities for collaboration and funding. As an ASA fellow, I am part of an elite group of statisticians, who facilitate collaborations with other leading experts in the field, potentially leading to innovative research projects and new directions for my work. It also gives me a platform to influence the direction of statistical research where I can help shape the future of the discipline.

How did you first become interested in studying statistics?

As a kid, I always had a great interest in mathematics. My twin brother took a statistics class and suggested that I would love it. That's how I got introduced to statistics. Later in my career, I always recognized and appreciated John Tukey’s famous quote that the best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.

Can you tell us about your work at Pfizer and what specifically excites you about it? 

I am an executive director and head of Real-World Evidence Statistics at Pfizer Inc., covering evidence generation across all therapeutic areas.

I have numerous publications in refereed journals, and recently, I coauthored “Interface between regulation and statistics in drug development” (Alemayehu, Emir and Gaffney 2021, CRC Press) and coedited a book to fill the gap in health economics and outcome research (Alemayehu et al., 2017, CRC Press). I have given many invited talks and short courses at statistical and clinical conferences.

I am passionate about continuously improving and learning in these fields, as they could directly impact improving the patients’ health with breakthroughs.

What drew you to Columbia’s Applied Analytics graduate program? What makes this program distinctive?

I have been an adjunct professor of statistics and a lecturer in the Applied Analytics graduate program since 2008. What drew me to this program was its commitment to bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application.

Columbia University attracts leading experts and practitioners in the field of analytics. The program focuses on developing practical skills that are immediately applicable in the workplace. This includes hands-on experience with the latest tools and technologies used in analytics, and the integration of knowledge from various fields such as data science, statistics, business, and technology. This interdisciplinary approach equips students with a well-rounded skill set that is applicable to a wide range of industries.

The opportunity to work with diverse and talented students, combined with the resources and reputation of Columbia University, made it an ideal place to continue my professional journey and contribute to the field of applied analytics.

Describe your approach in the classroom.

I first must acknowledge that I work with a great faculty in Applied Analytics teaching Frameworks and Methods I and II. Shoutout goes to Vishal Lala and Kitty Kay Chan. Our team approach and mine align completely.

My approach in the classroom is centered on fostering an engaging, interactive, and practical learning environment. I prioritize the needs and learning styles of my students, encouraging active participation and critical thinking. Given the nature of applied analytics, I emphasize the importance of practical skills. I incorporate case studies, real-world datasets, and industry-relevant tools into my curriculum and facilitate discussions, group work, and hands-on projects that allow students to apply concepts in real-world contexts. This helps students bridge the gap between theory and practice.

What’s one thing you hope students learn in your class?

In the Applied Analytics Frameworks and Methods I and II courses, I aim to equip students with a comprehensive understanding of analytics methodologies, practical skills, and the ability to apply these techniques to real-world problems.

By the end of these courses, I hope students will be well-equipped to tackle a wide range of analytical challenges, armed with both the technical skills and the strategic mindset needed to drive data-informed decision-making in their future careers.

About the Program 

Columbia University’s Master of Science in Applied Analytics prepares students with the practical data and leadership skills to succeed. The program combines in-depth knowledge of data analytics with the leadership, management, and communication principles and tactics necessary to impact decision-making at all levels within organizations.

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