University at Buffalo Researcher Tapped for Cellphone-Based Health Survey Project

Published December 18, 2015

“There are multiple efforts here to make UB a player in the big data arena nationally and internationally, and this could be one piece of the puzzle that helps us to do that.”
School of Public Health and Health Professions

A biostatistics professor at the University at Buffalo is preparing for what promises to be a professionally rewarding Fulbright Scholar fellowship at a major research institute in India. And yet, there is a personal connection that is likely to be even more meaningful.

Dr. Randy Carter, former associate chair and professor and now professor emeritus in the department of biostatistics in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, received his Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellowship award over the summer. He will spend six months conducting research and also teaching at the C.R. Rao Advanced Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (AIMSCS), one of the few research institutes worldwide that focuses exclusively on quantitative science. Dr. Carter’s fellowship runs from January through June 2016.

Dr. Carter will be joined by his wife, Ms. Christina Carter, a lecturer in the math department at SUNY Buffalo State. She also received a Fulbright award and will teach a flipped classroom — a nontraditional method in which students view recorded lectures outside of class and do in the class what typically would be homework — at the University of Hyderabad.  “For us, it will be another great adventure to be in a foreign country and experience a culture and lifestyle that is very different from ours in the U.S.,” says Dr. Carter, who also was the director of the Population Health Observatory (PHO) at UB.

India is particularly meaningful for the Carters, whose youngest son was killed in an automobile accident in Florida four years ago. “He was devoted to Hinduism, so my family and his friends traveled to India for an ashes ceremony on the Ganges River,” Dr. Carter says. “We spent a month there and developed a deep affinity for India.”

The C.R. Rao institute’s namesake created the research center in 2007 on the campus of the University of Hyderabad. Rao, whom Dr. Carter called “the most influential living statistician,” holds a volunteer appointment in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.  While in India, Dr. Carter will:

  • Work with researchers at the C.R. Rao Institute to develop statistical solutions to high dimensional data problems and apply them to biomedical data. High dimensionality means that the number of variables to be analyzed exceeds the number of objects in the study. High dimensional data are a type of big data, an area of study of great interest globally. Finding solutions to high dimensional problems is particularly applicable in genomic studies, where there can be tens of thousands of genes observed in a relatively small sample size of humans. Dr. Carter’s research proposal is especially relevant to the interests of the AIMSCS, where statisticians and computer scientists have an emerging interest in big data problems.
  • Teach a course on biostatistics to graduate students in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Hyderabad.
  • Co-write a grant proposal for the development of a Population Health Observatory-like data center to facilitate quantitative biomedical research at the AIMSCS.
  • Lay the groundwork for a cooperative agreement between UB and the AIMSCS for expanded, ongoing collaborative big data research among researchers at both institutions.

The cooperative agreement could help put the two institutions on the map for big data research globally. “We’ve got the players in place, and they do too, to have a meaningful international collaboration,” Dr. Carter says of the AIMSCS. “There are multiple efforts here to make UB a player in the big data arena nationally and internationally, and this could be one piece of the puzzle that helps us to do that.”

The players include Venu Govindaraju, UB’s vice president for research and economic development and an adjunct faculty member at the C.R. Rao Institute, and Marianthi Markatou, a professor in the Department of Biostatistics at UB, who is leading a joint effort between UB and Cornell University to create a statewide network of statisticians to collaborate on big data research projects.

“This is a prestigious honor for Dr. Carter, which will further enhance the reputation of our department and school,” says Dr. Alan Hutson, chair of UB’s department of biostatistics. “We hope that this work will forge a lasting relationship between our department and the C.R. Rao Institute.”

Researchers are paying much more attention to big data, and for good reason.

“Big data and the knowledge extracted from it provide considerable potential for social and economic benefits to the citizens and businesses of countries able to exploit the possibilities,” Dr. Carter explains in his Fulbright application. “Those countries whose universities and research institutes respond most rapidly and effectively to the need for new methods of analysis and for more, well-trained data scientists to apply the methods will be best positioned to take advantage of opportunities for data-driven innovation.”