February 1, 2017

My attempt to resist.

By In musings

The back end of biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries’ success and profitability hinges on statistical methods. Said methods, pre-determined and defined by a protocol, bear the burden of proof in determining which therapies are fit for market and human consumption/use. This necessary burden of proof often plays itself out through costly and lengthy clinical trials designed to satisfy said statistical requirements. A large part of the cause of the significant lag between therapy concept and patient care is the need to satisfy the rigorous requirements of the clinical trials protocol statistics.

Within the current climate of increasing demand for the expansion of compassionate care, the burden of this proof presents an intriguing opportunity for the analytical methods of data science. Expansion of compassionate care, if it’s to be satisfied with some semblance of patient safety, demands phenomenal increases in efficiency within the clinical trials process. A demand placed upon an industry that since its conception has amassed a wealth of historical patient data seemingly awaiting methods that can rival the rigor of statistics and revolutionize the healthcare industry and the drug concept to market process.

I hope that through retrospective analysis of clinical trial, or other human health data, and some statistic-like rigor applied to data’s analytical methods, the financial quagmire and business risk of clinical trials can be increasingly avoided. This hope has driven my career’s development toward data analysis and data driven efficiency within the healthcare industry at Genentech Inc. since the day after I graduated from UC Davis in 2012. Under this possible delusion I began my study of biostatistics and clinical trials design and management through San Francisco State in 2013. Because, in my mind, the potential payoff is a significant reduction both drug / device time to market and controversial animal testing; as well as an increase in small business presence and innovation in biotechnology. All of which should conceivably achieve the end goal of increasing patient access to therapy worldwide.

Genentech became well versed in the risk and reward of compassionate care in 1994 during its effort to bring Herceptin to market. While patients and family members took to the streets of San Francisco demanding access, I moved across the country, becoming a rural Pennsylvanian transplant in Northern California, bringing my conservatively minded parents to the blue state. A fact that through time fractured my political philosophy. This fracture sowed the seed of my pursuit of truth within a kind of chaos that drew this young escapist into literature. These developments continue to weave the foundation of my empathy and understanding for the endless variety of human experiences and political perspectives.

But, extending empathy led quickly to the overwhelming complexity of the notion that there are as many acceptable paths through life as there are people on the planet. A morally, and again politically, fracturing idea in our dual reality. While empathic individuals undoubtedly feel other’s pain more adeptly, this may detract from one’s ability to reason successfully and perhaps morally for the sake of politics that impact the collective. This perceived lack of truth around which policy can ever rally the support of societal solidarity drove my pursuit of truth away from expressions of individual human experiences toward the more singular simplicity of science. The truth of which is determined by the extent to which it is or can be mathematically proven.

So, I declared my major as pure mathematics in the 2008 – 2009 academic year. The same year I began my work in the health and wellness industry as an Intramural Sports first responder. This work sparked my study of exercise biology and sports psychology at UC Davis. This study and work then led to the completion of my 500 hour Registered Yoga Teacher certification in April of 2016 and on-going study of physiology and biology as part of the Advanced Biosciences certificate at UC Berkeley. The combination of which led naturally to a study of trauma physiology and possible treatments under the umbrella of Organic Intelligence, a branch of Somatic Experiencing, which will continue through April of 2019.

My insatiable desire for on-going education drew me to the Bay Area in 2013. A move made possible by the transition of my career to validating utility systems serving production at Genentech in South San Francisco – a production plant that uses nearly a million gallons of water per day while California suffers one of its worst droughts on record. My environmentalism enlivened. I started my work as the sub-team co-lead for Genentech’s Water Sustainability team and landed in an Environmental Health class at San Francisco State. It focused solely on the Bay Area and made clear the depths of policy’s possible and actual repercussions on health. And, a through line emerged. Policy has both the potential to negatively impact human health as well as the accessibility of advanced treatment for adverse health conditions. So, if I want to both decrease the need for care and increase access to it, policy will be central to the effort.

I had to address how, given my bipartisanship, I could determine what appropriate courses of political action are. The challenge drew me back to data and into the General Assembly Data Analysis and Data Science courses. And, relevant to the political climate in early 2016, my project work endeavored to visualize and analyze a data set of all documented police-involved fatalities that occurred in the United States between May 2013 and June 2015. A trend that my knowledge of trauma physiology indicates is a public health risk of epic proportions in its own right. I used a Python random forest classifier to assess the possibility of predicting whether or not the police officer involved in a fatality would be fired based on relevant features of the data. Features included the age, race, and socio-economic status of the victim, and the following aspects of where the incident occurred: political leaning (democrat/republican), population density, and average household income. My interest in the Northeastern Urban Informatics program ignited in early August 2016.

I came to understand that data science derives and interprets much of its success from proper prediction. This ability has deep roots and use in the marketing and commerce sphere. Here businesses can afford to be less concerned with the how and why of an analytical method’s success. They can afford to test their algorithms on human populations and measure an algorithms’ success with sales analytics instead of survival statistics. Consequently, analysts may not necessarily concern themselves with the eigenvectors and eigenvalues that are fundamental to the success and understanding of principal component analysis; or with when the new dimensions of these eigenvectors become difficult to interpret. While, for a pure mathematician this level of rigor for the sake of truth and its understanding is a necessity.

Through November 9th, 2016 my pursuit of truth was personal and philosophical. This day launched the need for truth to the political forefront. No longer can I casually contemplate how the robustness of mathematics can shift the ratio of political science toward science but am now immediately called to act on this intuition. One that’s dependent on highly qualified individuals being ready to not only tell complex narratives with data but, also being ready to backup their analysis and visualizations with an ability to defend and explain the methods used.

My application to the Northeastern Urban Informatics program is based on the belief that my upbringing, educational background, and career development leave me uniquely and highly qualified to contribute my skills in this sector. I am applying with no doubt that I have the aptitude for success in academia as well as the technical groundwork to be successful in this particular program. I am seeking acceptance to round out my qualifications such that I can start making a difference based on new insights around policies that are impacting the health of our communities.

I was born into privilege, at the very least, of higher education. I am now driven to use this endowment to serve my ideal of a more equitable society as it pertains to the accessibility of health and wellness. Specifically, I am passionately driven to improve the distribution of high quality food, fitness programs, and both mental and holistic health resources with education on all of the above to marginalized and lower income communities across the Bay Area. I see these as necessary adjustments to combat current health crises from a preventative perspective. While, on the reactionary side I see ample opportunity to decrease the price and increase the accessibility of advanced pharmaceutical therapeutics on a global scale with an increasing reliance on existing data and efficient and sustainable production practices.

I think this program will be another bridge between the opposite ends of the spectrums I am considered to straddle: left brain – right brain, art – science, creative – calculating, feeling – reasoning, conservative – liberal, empathic – moral. For me, these have never been as disparate or mutually exclusive as people are prone to claim but, on December 29th, 2016 a New York Times article addressed empathy’s effect on moral action and Paul Bloom concluded that, “a good policy maker makes decisions using reason, aspiring toward the sort of fairness and impartiality empathy doesn’t provide.” Empathy inspired my passion and desire to support policy’s potential. I appreciate your consideration for acceptance into this program as a means to refining the necessary ability to reason in this realm.

1 Comment
  1. Emelia Josephine February 3, 2017

    Yeeeee! Even if all we accomplish is a drop in the ocean of need, it will be filled to the point of exploding with learning and love. From one philomath to another: get it girl.


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