The Setting

History of Biostatistics at Vanderbilt

  • Chuck Federspiel was the first PhD biostatistician in 1959
  • Bill Dupont arrived in 1977
  • Yu Shyr arrived in 1994
  • Division of Biostatistics in Department of Preventive Medicine
  • Significant talent already present


  • Academic medical centers: majority of biomedical research funding
  • Tremendous growth in NIH grant funding had started
  • Major cancer center
  • Difficult to recruit enough faculty biostatisticians into a Division
  • Operating fund, recruitment funds, P&T were not controlled by biostatisticians
  • VU School of Medicine had not decided to go “all in” on biostatistics

VUMC, continued

  • Vanderbilt School of Medicine has > 2200 faculty covering every area of biomedical research
  • Success in recruitment of biomedical research faculty (our collaborators) was stunning
  • School of Medicine rewarded team science in P&T
  • No funding for pre-grant development work outside the cancer center
  • Big push for new department from 3 research leaders
  • Big push from existing Biostatistics faculty

The Opportunity


  • Originally position was for Vice Chair of Preventive Medicine
  • Hired as consultant to make suggestions for strengthening the division
  • Main suggestion: grow it into a department
  • Dean and Vice Chancellor agreed and asked me to be first head
  • Sought counsel from career mentor David DeMets
  • Opportunity to implement a number of ideas