Skip to main content
Clinical and Translational Science Center

Clinical and Translational Science Center


So much data - but what does it all mean?

Before “team science” and “multidisciplinary investigation” became hot topics in the field of clinical and translational research, there was one consistent multidisciplinary member of the research team – the biostatistician. While medical scientists have expertise in their field of study, the biostatistician is the data evaluation expert. The importance of this relationship has become increasingly crucial over the years as the complexity and immensity of research data has grown. Recognizing investigators’ needs for readily accessible statistical assistance and consultation, the CTSC has assembled a team of expert biostatisticians who are ready to tackle researchers’ study design and data analysis needs.

“We have a breadth of analytical techniques with which many researchers may be unfamiliar. These methods allow us to examine data in a variety of ways, and identify and extract unique patterns and dynamics from the analysis. Sometimes through the analysis we make discoveries that researchers had not anticipated,” said Sandra Taylor, the Biostatistics Program’s senior statistician. Along with four other biostatisticians, she works under the direction of Dr. David Rocke, director of the CTSC Research Design and Biostatistics Program.

Medical residents, graduate students and faculty members can seek assistance from the staff of the Biostatistics Program, which includes three faculty statisticians and three doctoral-level staff statisticians. The program’s facilities at the CTSC and on the Davis campus are available to any investigator from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, or Veterinary Medicine, as well as the Colleges of Engineering and Biological Sciences.

“We assist with all phases of research,” said Taylor, who manages the program’s daily operations and performs data analyses. “We can help investigators design their studies, and determine if they have sufficient samples and are collecting data in a manner that will answer their questions. We also help researchers write sections of grant proposals that describe how the data analysis will address the specific aims of the study. We analyze the data they collect, and prepare figures and written reports to aid in the interpretation of the findings.”

Although the Biostatistics Program accepts raw data submitted in plain text comma-delimited files, data collected in REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) or the Velos clinical trials data management system is preferred because those applications prevent contamination of numerical fields with text and ensure consistency among entered data. The CTSC Biomedical Informatics program also can help researchers design a database (see “Is there an app for that?” in CTSC Connections, Fall/Winter 2012–2013).

“One thing we cannot do is fix a poorly designed study that is already under way,” Taylor said. “That is why we encourage investigators to talk with us when they first plan their study. We will discuss their specific aims, hypotheses, data sources, the comparisons that they want to make, and the relationships they may want to establish. That information then forms the basis for the sample size calculations. We will also try to discern any confounding factors that may inhibit their ability to make their intended inferences.” Taylor and her colleagues use applications such as SAS and R to process data and conduct statistical analyses.

Taylor brings a scientific background to her position. She had worked over a decade as a wildlife biologist, engaged in habitat conservation and restoration, before she developed a captivating interest in biostatistics. She sidelined that career and enrolled at UC Davis in the biostatistics program through which she obtained a master’s degree in 2006 and a Ph.D. in 2009.

“I love this job,” enthused Taylor, who enjoys helping researchers solve problems. “When investigators come in bewildered and overwhelmed by their data, I am happy when I can say, ‘OK, we can handle this.’ Analyzing their data and presenting the results in a manner that they understand and is accessible to them is really rewarding.”


Two ways to obtain statistical support

  Click the “Request Services” link on the CTSC home page.

  Reserve a spot at the Biostatistics Office Hours, held most Tuesdays at noon at the CTSC.

Office Hours sessions offer an opportunity for investigators to consult with a statistician about the design, analysis or presentation of medical research studies in a friendly, informal setting.