Teaching Online During a Pandemic

The 2020 Fall semester is almost over! Hurray! While part of me (maybe 95%) is tempted to put this semester in the past and never think about it again, I know that with all the challenges and difficulties I was forced to learn and grow. I’m going to take a moment to reflect on what I did and what I learned this semester with the hope that it is helpful to someone else out there. I learned a lot from my students and from my colleagues leading up and during this semester and really tried to apply any good idea that wasn’t too labor intensive.

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Teaching Data Feminism to Data Science Students

The SDS Capstone is a one semester course focused on using data in ethical ways to collaboratively solve real-world problems. While the capstone has been offered numerous times, I just finished leading that course for the first time.  What a semester to do anything, none-the-less attempt to really stretch myself beyond my content comfort zone! But this blog post isn’t about the challenges of switching to remote mid-semester, its about incorporating the new book Data Feminism (by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein) into the course.

Data Feminism

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Being a Trans Person in Academia: Part V Back to the Present

[This is part of a series.  Here is Part 0,  Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4]

Hi there!  I took a break from writing this series of blog posts, because as it turns out, writing about my experiences as a trans person trying to move through academia is emotionally exhausting.  Most of the time I am actively trying to not rehash my past difficulties so that I have enough energy to go about my day.  So writing these blogs has gone against my standard way of being, and has been a special exercise in discomfort and vulnerability.  While on the whole I’m glad that I have written these posts and made this public (did I mention that my natural inclination is to be really private?) this has not been an entirely enjoyable experience.

If I were to keep going chronologically, this post would be about my first year in the Biostatistics doctoral program at Brown.  But there are no rules here, right?  So instead of talking about my PhD experience (which had many ups and downs as well.  Some of which I documented in a pathetically dejected zine LOL) I am skipping ahead to the present.

I’m in the second year of a tenure track job at Smith College, back to where I went to undergrad.  I am in the Statistical and Data Sciences (SDS) program, which is my dream scenario.  I have a friend who, when I had just started grad school, asked me what I would ideally end up doing.  No joke, I told him that I would love to be a professor at Smith, and now here I am!  I have wonderful colleagues who come from Statistics, Mathematics, Psychology, and Computer Science backgrounds. The program is pretty new (the first SDS majors graduated in 2017) and it has been extremely rewarding to be a part of building this program in cooperation with so many dedicated, smart, caring, creative, and forward-thinking coworkers. It seems to be working! We now have over 70 declared majors, and we continue to grow all the time.  It feels like, here in Smith SDS, I am part of something truly special and that all of my experiences have prepared me for this moment.

I’m really happy (and kind of surprised?) that I have been able to keep my research moving along. I’m enjoying working on a bunch of different projects: developing statistical methods for analyzing data collected through Respondent-Driven Sampling, for allocating “treatments” to maximize impact in social network studies, as well as working on analyses of data relating to LGBT public health issues.  The balance of teaching and research is suiting me well.  I love that statistics and research is a team activity, and getting to work on several different projects with people from diverse fields is energizing.  While I like that I get to do research on trans health, I am glad that this isn’t the only area of focus for me.  I am pretty sure that if I only did trans health research I would burn out fast.  The health disparities between trans (especially trans women of color) and non-trans people are extremely stark, and sometimes even though I know I am doing my best to help address those disparities, it gets me down.  But the only choice is to keep going, so that is what I am doing.

Now that I am at Smith I have been searching for ways that I can leverage my position and relative comfort with being out as trans to help other trans people.  Not every trans person can be out at their job, and I feel that because I am able to be out, that I have an extra responsibility.  This series of blog posts is a part of that effort.  I have also been working with some wonderful new colleagues that I met at the Women in Statistics and Data Science conference to increase visibility of LGBT+ statisticians/data scientists and to create resources for allies and LGBT+ folks.   The hard part for me in this moment is figuring out how I can make the biggest positive impact in a way that doesn’t deplete me.  I don’t imagine I will ever find a perfect balance, but I think I am getting closer.  This is the kind of challenge that I am gratified to be engaging with.

Thanks for reading and sharing!


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Being a Trans Person in Academia. Part IV: Applying to Doctoral Programs

[This is part of a series.  Here is Part 0,  Part 1Part 2,  Part 3, and Part 5]

During the summer between my first and second year of my Biostats Masters I attended the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference where I sat in on a session about a Canadian health research study of transgender adults.  It turns out it is really difficult to find a representative sample of trans people.  The research plan for this study sought to address this by using a sampling methodology I had never heard of before: Respondent-Driven Sampling (RDS).  The main idea with RDS is that you start off with a few people in the target population that you are able to identify.  You administer your survey with those individuals, and then you ask them to tell you how many other individuals in the target population that they know.  Finally, you give each study participant coupons with unique IDs, and direct the study participants to recruit someone else they know in the target population by passing on the coupon.  Using the coupons help you in a lot of ways, including that you know who referred who, and nobody has to compromise anyone else’s privacy.  On top of that, by asking about how many other people they know in the target population, you are can attempt to adjust for unequal sampling probabilities.  I wish I could remember the name of the study, but this was 10 (!!) years ago.  At any rate, I was really intrigued by RDS, and started hunting around to learn more.  As I learned about RDS, I realized that I might be able to make a statistical contribution that would help improve the validity of studies on trans people.

The summer went by fast, and now it is the start of my second year in my Biostatistics masters program at (what was then called) Harvard School of Public Health.  I am registered for the standard classes that incoming doctoral students take: Probability, Biostats Methods, and Statistical Computing.  On top of that I am TAing for Intro Biostats again, and starting to get my Biostats PhD applications together.  I ultimately decide to apply to Biostats doctoral programs at Harvard, Brown, Johns Hopkins, and University of Washington.  This final time of applying to grad school, I not only am out as trans in my applications, but I also weave in my interest in RDS for studying trans populations into my personal statement.  I figure that if I am going to be in a doctoral program I want to be someplace where they will accept me for who I am, rather than try to project what I think the admission committee wants to see.

Whereas my first year at Harvard was challenging socially, and pretty doable academically, I am finding that the reverse is true my second year.  For example, I’m taking PhD level probability, having never taken any probability before, and at this point it has been about 10 years since I took calculus.  Things are rough! Sometimes my probability professor would say something, and while I could hear the words, I had no idea what the heck he meant.  Fortunately, I always manage to find solid study buddies, I have no shame whatsoever about asking the TA and the Professor questions, and I am extremely stubborn.  I study with my masters cohort buddies like I am training for the Probability Olympics, and in the end I learn probability pretty well.  I have made it to the end of the semester in tact, I have submitted my applications and it is all out of my hands.

I get to cap off the fall semester by going to Bahia Brazil for a January-term class on infectious diseases and have some summer in the winter time!  This is my first time leaving the country since I have changed my name and gender marker on my passport.  Traveling while trans can be a little nerve-wracking but everything (except for my ability to digest food) goes well.  It was quite the experience. Apparently I was so immersed in thinking about our project on testing and treatment that one of my roommates distinctly heard me sleep-talk about  “HIV/AIDS”.  I learned a lot about HIV/AIDS, I got to help come up with a study design to look into why people might be presenting at later stages of their HIV infection for treatment, learn how to make caipirinhas from one of my professors, and I also got to turn 30 on the beach with my new friends.

The HIV/AIDS group after our final presentation

The spring semester starts, and I am enrolled in Statistical Inference, Biostats Methods II, Cost Effectiveness Analysis, and Mathematical Modelling of Complex Systems. I am TAing for Analysis of Rates and Proportions.  One of the cool things about TAing is that the classes I TA for tend to line up well with the classes that I am currently taking.  For example, in Methods II we are learning all the material that is in Analysis of Rates and Proportions, but at a much deeper level.  Having the opportunity to communicate those ideas as a TA really helps me learn the subject in a more complete way in Methods II.  This semester I find out that I really don’t care at all about cost/benefit analysis.  As for Statistical Inference, I think it would not be overstating it to say that I am getting my ass handed to me.  I feel pretty miserable, in large part because I am being extremely hard on myself.

Meanwhile, I start hearing back from the programs I applied to.  I get invited by Brown Biostatistics to come to campus, and make the trip down to Providence from Boston.  Somehow I was under the impression that this was an “admitted students” event, when in fact it was an opportunity for the faculty to interview us before making their final decisions.  That was a pretty stressful realization to have.  Then on top of that, I found out from one of the other prospective students that he already got invited to the Johns Hopkins Biostats equivalent of this event, and I had not been invited….. So there goes that possibility.  Sad Trombone Sound Times a Billion.  But ultimately everything turns out great.  I don’t get into University of Washington and Johns Hopkins, but I do get into Brown and Harvard.  Brown and Harvard Biostats are pretty different from each other, so choosing was really difficult.  After a lot of self-torture I decide on Brown, and I feel happy about my choice.



I often wonder when someone will make regalia with breathable fabric.

I graduate from my Biostatistics Masters feeling triumphant and ready to move on to the next stage at Brown!


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Being a Trans Person in Academia. Part III: Harvard Biostatistics Masters First Year

[This is part of a series.  Here is Part 0,  Part 1Part 2, Part 4, and Part 5]

OK, let’s pickup where I left off with my last blog post.  I packed up my hatchback with all of my stuff and drove from Minneapolis to my new apartment in Jamaica Plain that I am sharing with 3 rando strangers and a very cute beagle named Jesse.  I know about 3 people in the entire Boston area.

I am enrolled in a Math Stats course that usually is taken by Epi PhD students, Longitudinal Data Analysis, Epidemiology of HIV, and a Women Gender and Health course. In addition to my coursework, I have agreed to TA intro Biostats.

Before I get any further, please allow me to emphasize a few things:

  1. I still cannot believe that Harvard let me in.  My academic insecurity feelings are through the roof but I am trying to play it cool.
  2. I have resolved to be out as trans to the max!
  3. I have no idea how I will actually handle being out as trans!

So I’m just rolling up to orientation where I will meet my masters cohort and the other new students.  I am incredibly nervous.  On top of my baseline anxiety about not feeling like I am good enough to be at Harvard, I have this interaction a few times before I realize that I am handling this poorly:

Other student striking up a conversation: So where did you go for undergrad?

Me in a single breath: Smith College It is a women’s college and I was a woman at the time I went there but that was the 90s and I am not any more because I am a totally normal smart chill person who is trans and has a lot to offer and absolutely deserves to be here *big smile*

I might have some room for improvement on the coming out front.  But with practice, and by realizing that most people really don’t care, coming out gets a whole lot easier.  I find that if I act relaxed about coming out, then people respond a lot better than if I am being a stressed-out weirdo. Now that I am not holding the trans part of myself back, it is SO EASY to make new friends. Is this what its like for people who aren’t constantly expending mental and emotional energy to hold back a significant part of themselves? Because it feels magical.  I am feeling so free.

Trans healthcare-wise I am able to keep getting my testosterone shots through student health services, so that is all good.  The doctors and nurses at Harvard Health services are tremendous and so helpful.  If I didn’t have my access to testosterone in place, then grad school would not be possible for me.

On the academic front, I am settling into a routine.  Many of my classes are with my masters cohort, and I am so lucky because they are all wonderful people.  We study together regularly and are bonded.  I love being a TA for Intro Biostats, and I have a fun time leading the lab sections.  TAing might actually be my favorite part of my week.  Being in front of the students and helping them work through problems and their STATA code forces me to be totally in the moment. I can’t be thinking about that messed up thing that another student said to me 30 minutes ago (it turns out that being out as trans sometimes means that non-trans people think they can give you advice on how you should change your gender presentation) or how much homework I have to do.  When I am in my TA session I am 100% present, and I never want that feeling to end.

Image result for pagano gauvreau

On top of classes and TAing, I start doing research with a professor on LGB youth and changes in sexual orientation identity over time, putting my longitudinal data class into practice.  I also am working to help put together a series of workshops and panels for the spring semester about trans health.  Through this process I get to work with some really awesome students in the international health program and the social behavioral program who are to this day some of my best friends.

To my knowledge, I’m the only trans student at HSPH out of a few hundred students.  Now that I am feeling a bit more comfortable about being out, I am finding that I need to make some decisions about what inappropriate comments I am going to let slide, and what comments that I want to address.  I think that for the most part my fellow classmates have good intentions, but some of them just don’t know how to be appropriate.  I get pretty skilled at telling people in a friendly that they are crossing a line.

Spring break in San Francisco

In my second semester I take clinical trials, public health surveillance, survival analysis, and I decide to start taking the classes needed to get the Women Gender and Health concentration.   The series on trans health that I helped organize goes better than I could have dared hoped for.  I don’t TA my second semester, and I really miss it.  Fortunately, my Longitudinal Data Analysis professor asks me if I could TA over the summer.  So I spend my summer doing research, TAing, and longing for air conditioning.  My first year is a success!

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Being Trans in Academia. Part II: MPH & Minnesota

[This is part of a series.  Here is Part 0,  Part 1Part 3Part 4, and Part 5]

If someone were to tell you that your life in San Francisco was going to be drastically different than your life in Minnesota, that probably wouldn’t come as a shock.  That’s the way it was for me when I moved from San Francisco to Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park neighborhood the summer before starting my Masters in Public Health program at the University of Minnesota. There were a ton of drastic changes.  Here’s the thing I did not expect about moving to Minneapolis from San Francisco: I was about to go from being not recognized as a guy in any consistent way, to 100% of the time being perceived as a dude.  All it took was a 4 hour plane ride to the Midwest.

I guess I ate a lot of edamame at this point in my life?

Even though this is what I had been wanting for years, it felt strange to have such a sudden shift.  I didn’t have to worry about using a public restroom, I could walk down the street without getting hassled, and overall I could let my guard down a bit.  Spoiler alert: I did not let my guard down at all. While all of this sounds (and was) nice, it was extremely confusing.  Suddenly, I could just exist, but I didn’t know how to do that. Also, gendered behavioral expectations are super bizarre, and that was brought into stark relief real quick.

I also didn’t know how to come out as trans now that I was being perceived as a guy.  Before when I came out as trans, I was correcting people who thought I was a woman, and it was an act of affirming my identity.  Coming out as trans meant something different now, and I felt 100% unprepared for figuring out how to approach it.

On top of that, I’m a 26 year old person about to start a masters’s program and everyone thinks I am a teenage boy.  I know this because when I went to the Minnesota State fair I went to one of those “guess your age” booths and the person guessed 17 years old!  I was out of the 3 year margin of error, so my youthful demeanor won me a pig magnet.  It turns out the prizes weren’t that great at that booth.

So just to recap: I suddenly have been granted my wish to have my male identity recognized, but it comes with a side of being perceived to be 17 year old, and a new set of gender expectations, and dudes now say all the sexist things to me that they would have never said before because they think I will just agree with them, and also I have no idea how to disclose my trans identity in this bizarre new Minnesotan situation I am in.  Also I don’t know anyone, and I need to get a job fast.  Cool, that’s all that was going on for me as I was about to start my grad program.

So about that grad program: I am in a cohort of about 30 or so students.  My classes are Pathophysiology, Intro Epidemiology, and Intro Biostatistics.  I am stressed about Pathophysiology, I really love my Epidemiology class and learning about all the different study designs, and I am kind of shocked about how much I like Biostatistics.  I start regularly studying with a few members of my cohort, I get a job working on the CARDIA study which involves me calling people on the phone and trying to get them to participate in the next wave of the study.  I also am making some buddies (both trans and not trans) outside of school who end up being friends that I still cherish to this day.

University of Minnesota has something in the pro column: they provide trans-related health care if you have the student insurance.  So I go once a week to student health services to get my testosterone shot, and it is all 100% covered by my insurance.  That is pretty awesome. The doctors and nurses at health services are all really nice to me, and they seem to have been well trained on how to care for trans patients.  Then, halfway through my first year, I go in to see my doctor after making an appointment the previous day.  The receptionist tells me the appointment is cancelled and that my doctor doesn’t work there any more.  I am a bit shocked, as I had spoken with my doctor the day before.  When I ask what the deal is, the receptionist blurts out that my doctor died.  I am shocked and saddened, I really liked my doctor.  Later that year, in one of the most unprofessional encounters I have had with a health professional (and as a trans person I have had many), I find out from another provider at student health services that my doctor committed suicide, and that her trans identity was a factor.  I mean, it has been 12 years since this happened, and I still don’t know what to say about this and how incredibly inappropriate this was.

Putting all that aside, because I really don’t know what else to do, being out of school for four years had me worried that I would have forgotten how to learn in an academic setting.  But it turns out that I had become the best student I have ever been in my life because: 1.) I know that this is a huge opportunity for me and I don’t want to waste it 2.) Having actually worked for a living means that I have a work ethic that I did not possess as an undergrad, 3.) I am really excited about getting to apply what I am learning.  I also start thinking that maybe I am a bit more interested in Biostatistics than Epidemiology.  I really loved math in college, but I never took stats.  But now that I am taking Biostatistics it seems to be everything I ever wanted:  I get to use math to try to better understand the world, and also might actually get to make a positive impact by addressing public health issues.  Dreamy.  I keep taking more and more Biostatistics courses, and I keep really enjoying them.

By the end of my first year of grad school I have a new job working at the Minnesota Department of Public Health and it is a great place to work.  My job is to assist with influenza surveillance, and I occasionally get to pitch in and help with MRSA surveillance and drive around Minnesota to swab people’s noses.  I also have realized that I want to take my Biostatistics interest to the next level.  I decide that I will finish out my Epi degree, but that being a biostatistician is where it is at for me, so I start getting ready to apply for Biostatistics grad programs.

Even though I am being a full time grad student and working as many hours as the university allows, I am able to make time to pursue other interests.  I take a ceramics class, I join an arts organization called “Gender Blur”, and I keep making friends outside of school who help me keep a bit of perspective.  Socializing in school is a little more fraught for me because in my full two years living in Minnesota, I only ever come out to one of my classmates who is great and really supportive.  But I hold myself back from getting too close with anyone else at school because that would mean coming out to them as trans, and given my history of people giving me shit, I am pretty hesitant to put myself out there.

Eventually it is time to submit my applications to Biostatistics programs.  There is this new website called sophas.org where you can submit many applications through one portal.  This is cutting edge technology in the mid 2000’s, and I was into it.  My plan was to stay in Minnesota and get a Biostats masters, but since it was so easy to apply to other schools, I also end up applying to a bunch, and on a whim apply to Harvard too thinking I have absolutely no chance of getting in.  This time applications are a lot easier for me because I deal with the fact that not everything is going to match up (for instance my GRE was taken with my old name, but most of my materials are now with my new name) and I directly address my trans identity in my personal statement.  And, as it happens, being out as trans in my applications was not a problem at all.  I got into every school I applied to, including Harvard which about blows my damn mind.  I was shocked to my core.

After getting into Harvard I make a couple promises to myself.  First I resolve that I will go for things that seem impossible.  Getting into Harvard helped me realize that I was limiting my own possibilities, I was setting some pretty strict confines on what I was doing with my life, and I was tired of it!  If other people wanted to box me in, that’s on them, but I was being my own captor and it needed to stop.  Second, I decided that I would no longer hide or blend in to the background in an attempt to be safe.  That had long been my coping strategy and while it had in some sense worked, it also kept me isolated.  There were a lot of awesome people that I had been going to school with for 2 years who I had been keeping at arm’s length so that they wouldn’t find out I was trans, and for what?  I decided that was over.

Despite feeling like I have no business being a student at Harvard, I decide that’s the next step of my grad school journey, and I am going to be all the way out as trans!  I am excited and nervous.  My lovely Minnesota friends throw me a going away party complete with a bouncy castle. Then I head off to Boston to study Biostatistics.

I love bouncy castles.



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Being a Trans Person in Academia. Part I: Applying For Grad School While Trans

[This is Part I of a series.  Here is Part 0, Part 2 , Part 3Part 4, and Part 5]

Here I am, I am 25 years old, I am living in San Francisco, working at an office job at the San Francisco Bar Association, and living in an illegal sublet in the Castro.  My job isn’t going anywhere for me, I have limited employment opportunities open to me as a visibly trans/ gender non-conforming person.  How can I tell that I am visibly trans? Because this kind of stuff happens somewhat frequently:



  1. I am waiting at the bus stop at 24th and Mission at 11pm at night by myself and some guy starts asking me what I am, am I a guy or a girl?  He really wants to talk about it, and I just want to safely get on this bus that seems like it will never arrive.
  2. I am at the Atlas Cafe eating my favorite turkey sandwich with fig chutney and some random person comes up to me and asks me if I want to be photographed for their art project about “people who are in-between genders”.
  3. There is no gendered bathroom that I feel safe in.  I am afraid of being clocked if I go in the men’s room.  When I go in the women’s room sometimes it goes OK, other times women threaten to call the police on me for being in the wrong bathroom.  Just for the record I only want to use the facilities and wash my hands as quickly as possible.
  4. Living in the Castro is weird.  Just walking down the street in my neighborhood, sometimes gay men cruise me, other times they call me a dyke, and not in a friendly reclaiming a pejorative term way.

Any time I am in a public I am aware that things could go from fine to extremely bad for me in a second.  I always have my guard up, I am always appraising my situation. I am constantly thinking about how things could turn violent, or that someone is going to question why I am in a particular space.  So just to sum it up, things are not chill for me.

But on the other hand, I have a steady job with health insurance that covers my trans-related health needs.  I have to go to a different floor at work to use the restroom, but at least I have somewhere to go.  I have a bunch of sweet friends, San Francisco is beautiful, and it turns out that my job has another great perk: flex time.  I work an extra 45 minutes every day, and then I get to take every other Friday off.  I use my alternating Fridays to volunteer at the Transgender Law Center where I am helping with the trans ID-change service, and also gathering information on doctors who work with trans patients.  I begin to think that maybe if I can find a way to merge my burgeoning interest in health access and equity with my love of math then I might be on to something.

Eventually, I find epidemiology, decide that’s what I’m going to do, and start looking into programs. Fortunately for me I went to an excellent school for undergrad: Smith College (more on that later).  I got pretty good grades (3.49 GPA), I majored in Math, minored in Computer Science, and I’m good with a standardized test and a personal statement.  I do all of the googling about grad school during my work hours that I can.  Eventually I decide to apply to three epidemiology masters programs: University of California Berkeley,  University of Minnesota, and University of Washington.

I start going into action mode.  Here’s my plan:

  • Study for the GRE all the time.  I make little note cards with words like “abstruse” and “gainsay” on them to practice my vocabulary when I take the Muni to work
  • Sign up for an online class on the Biology of Cancer that I take trough the UC extension school since I never took any biology classes in undergrad
  • I search people on Friendster (lol) who list epidemiology as an interest and cold message them to ask them about their experiences.  Most people are really nice and are happy to answer my questions.

This is all going great, but while Smith is wonderful, it is a women’s college, and I no longer identify as a woman.  Do I apply under the name Miles, or under my given name which is on my transcript?  I haven’t changed any of my identification yet.  I have three letter writers in mind, but I don’t feel like I can come out to one of them who I only knew for a summer.  So despite the fact I am living as a guy 24-7, I only go by the name Miles, and I never want to be called my former name again, I decide that it would be simpler to apply as a woman and using my old name.  I figure that at least my application will be consistent that way, everything will be under my old name and my gender assigned at birth.  I reason that it is better to pretend to still be my former identity than to disclose that I am trans.  It pains me to type this now.

I keep moving along. Since I live so close to Berkeley, I reach out to an Epidemiology professor there and set up a meeting to learn more about the program.  But since I’m not out as trans in my application, I feel like I need to stay consistent in my gender presentation. So I put on my most feminine outfit (which was just slightly tighter jeans) and head over to Berkeley on the BART for the meeting.  In short, it was super uncomfortable for me.  I felt like a total weirdo, and I’m pretty sure I made a terrible impression.

Except for that misadventure with the Berkeley Epi professor, my plan is coming together.  I get good GRE scores, I have a personal statement I am happy with, my letter writers get their letters in on time. The results come in: I get rejected from Berkeley, I get into University of Minnesota with a scholarship, and I get wait-listed at University of Washington. So its off to Minnesota for me!

But I am not ready yet.  Even though I applied under my old name, I have no intention of using that name in grad school or ever again.  So now that I have been admitted to Minnesota, I start working on changing my name and gender marker on my driver’s license and my social security card.  This is super complicated, but since I have been volunteering at the Transgender Law Center, I know exactly what to do.  I file for a court appointed name and gender change.  I take out an advertisement in a local newspaper giving them notice that I am changing my name.  I get my birth certificate, a letter from my doctor saying that I am officially trans, and everything else together.  Then in one day I have my court hearing in the Civic Center where it is me and 3 newlywed women who are taking their spouse’s name, I get 7 notarized copies of my name and gender change documentation from the court, I hustle over to the DMV in the Panhandle and get my license changed, and then go to the social security administration in the Mission to get my social security card changed.  If you don’t do all three in the same day it doesn’t work.  I cross the finish line before 5 pm when the SSA closes and now I am officially MILES OTT.  It is a huge relief.

I email Minnesota to let them know that I will go by Miles and use he/him/his pronouns from now on.  That turns out to be super easy, and next thing you know it is time for me to leave behind San Francisco and start my new grad school life in Minnesota!

Looking back, I wish I had felt I could be myself during the grad school application process.  Fortunately (?)  I would get to apply to grad school 2 more times!





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Being A Trans Person in Academia

[This is Part 0 of a series.  Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4, and Part 5]

Hi there! If you have ever read this blog you might know that I am the person behind Biostatistics Ryan Gosling, or you might have followed along for my research on social networks (which sometimes involves chimpanzees) or that I like to try new things with R, or that I enjoy ceramics.  Hi to all of you!

Also, FYI, I am trans.  This is not a new thing, but I guess it is new to my blog.  I have a lot of experience being trans.  It is something that I live in every moment of every day, and I have been doing this for some time.  As a little proof (sometimes people that I come out to try to tell me that I am not trans which is really confusing to me) here is a very grainy picture of me in 2004 at the first San Francisco Trans March holding the “Trans & Proud” sign.  Sadly you can’t tell from this picture that I had a very full head of lustrous wavy brown hair, but that too is real even if it is not pictured.


It is a little rough to be a trans person these days, but what else is new?  One way I think I can be helpful is to try to share what I have learned along my path so far.  I am going to start sharing some of my experiences as a trans person in academia on this blog.  What experiences? Well, I have applied to graduate school as a trans person and gotten in and also not gotten in.  I did that many times as I now have two masters degrees and a PhD.  I have applied to many academic jobs, and been a visiting assistant professor, and then an assistant professor on the tenure track (twice).  I have published papers, been a Co-I on NIH funded R01s, presented at conferences, and advised students.  All while being trans!  Sometimes being trans didn’t make any difference, other times it really did.  Some times I couldn’t tell if I was having a hard time because I was trans or just because academia is hard.

I am going to revive this dormant blog to tell my academic trans story so that other trans people can hopefully have an easier time.  If you are not trans, feel free to read this as well and perhaps benefit from it, but know that I am not writing this for you 🙂

Stay tuned for my first installment in which I will write about my first time applying to graduate school as a male-identified person who went to a women’s college for undergrad!

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Missing Data in Social Networks

Much of my research is on Social Networks, which are representations of how people, groups of people, or sometimes chimpanzees interact or are otherwise connected with each other. When analyzing social network data, as when analyzing any data, it is always important to consider how the data were collected.  For social networks we have to not only consider missing data on each individual in the network, but also the possibility that information on the relationships between the individuals could also be missing.

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New Email Address

You know what this blog needs? Considerably more Patti LaBelle:

I’m feeling good from my head to my shoes
Know where I’m going and I know what to do
I tidied up my point of view
I got a new attitude (and by attitude I mean email address/job)

I can now be reached at mott [at] smith [dot] edu and will start teaching in the Statistical and Data Sciences program at Smith College in September!


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Gun Violence Data

After digging around the internet looking for data on gun violence for a few minutes,  I found Gun Violence Archive which has a ton of great information on gun violence in the US. You can search for incidents by date, location, age of victim, kind of gun, and much more.  On top of that, you can download CSV files directly from the website.

Here’s what I made with 32 days worth of data: Continue reading

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Karate Club Network Club

My research focuses on social networks.  Social networks, at least as I deal with them, are representations of how people (or organizations, or animals) perceive or interact with each other.  These representations can take the form of  visualizations (see below for an example) matrices, or lists of who is connected to who.  How you decide to format your representation of a network depends on what you are trying to learn, how many people and relationships are in the network, and what kind of relationships you are interested in.  In this blog post we will just be looking at network visualizations.

If you study social networks, it won’t be long until you encounter Zachary’s Karate Club Network:


Wayne Zachary was not actually in the karate club, but he kept track of who in the club hung out with each other doing non-karate activities for three years.  So in the above representation of the network, you can see that the person labelled 25 interacted with the person labelled 32 outside of the karate club.   Maybe 25 taught 32 how to crochet a sweater with a gerbil emblem on it.  Maybe 32 and 25 stared into each others’ eyes for hours and vowed to never leave each other’s sides.  Maybe 25 and 32 went to a Carpenter’s concert and heard “Close to You” sung live by Karen Carpenter and never were the same (it was the early 1970’s).  We don’t know, we just know they interacted outside of the club.

Now I’ve never been a member of a karate club.  I took karate classes at the local suburban recreation center with about 40 other 7 year-olds back in 1986 in the hopes that I could learn to crane kick like Ralph Macchio.  That did not happen, and I never even made it to the white belt level.  Instead I learned how reluctant a karate instructor can be to clean up a gym floor when a child (not me) pees in fear/boredom.  So my karate knowledge is pretty much limited to the aforementioned 1980’s film franchise and Miss Piggy.

Back to the actual karate club at hand.  As I mentioned, I have never had the experience of being involved in a karate club, but if Zachary’s example is representative of all karate clubs, they are dens of backstabbing and DRAMA.  You see, there were two individuals in the club who had very different ideas of how the club should run.  The karate instructor felt that karate club fees should be raised, and the club president wanted to keep the fees low.  These two didn’t just disagree with each other and then go around karate chopping as per usual.  Instead things got heated.  They each tried to recruit members of the club to be on their side.  Alliances were forged and torn asunder.  Names were called.  People were karate chopped in the heart.  Or not, I wasn’t born yet.  Eventually the group split in two.

Now that you know the embellished karate club backstory, here’s a little challenge for you :

1.) Identify the two ring-leaders of the karate club discord of 1972.

2.) Identify two groups that correspond with how the group split.

Answers below:

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R Packages, easy as a delicious dessert

I have long wanted to write R packages.  But for some reason, I thought that I wasn’t capable of such a feat.  “R package authors are super stars, I’m just me,” I would think in a mix of despair and admiration, marveling at some new and useful R package, and wishing I could create such functional beauty.

But now the day I have long dreamed of has arrived!  I have authored an R package, and it is perhaps the most satisfying feeling I have ever had using R.  Trust that I have had many R-related feelings, so I do not make this statement lightly.   On top of now holding myself in higher regard, I am also wondering what the heck took me so long?

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New paper about Random Walks and Edge Sampling

I feel like I am on a roll here.  Last month, my Bayesian paper (joint work with Krista Gile, Joseph Hogan, Nancy Barnett, and Crystal Linkletter) was published in Statistics in Medicine, and just today my RDS paper (which I worked on with Dr. Krista Gile) was published in the Electronic Journal of Statistics!

I am really interested in RDS, and here’s why: it is really important to understand the health behaviors and needs of people who are at higher risk for certain health issues, like HIV.  But it turns out that the people who tend to be at higher risks for HIV are really hard to get a nice random sample of.   Continue reading

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New Publication in Statistics in Medicine

I’m happy to report that my article Bayesian Peer Calibration with Application to Alcohol Use has been published in Statistics in Medicine.  If you love Bayesian statistics, social networks, multi-level models, and boatloads of conjugate prior distributions (check out the appendices), then this just might be the article for you!

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An “Invitation” to Address World’s Leading Tech Conference or A Brief History of Biostatistics Ryan Gosling

I recently(ish) received an email inviting me to speak at the 2015 Web Summit.  How did this come to be?  Well let me give you the back story.

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Simulating the Spread of Disease in a Population of Chimpanzees


There’s a terrible disease that could threaten an entire colony of chimpanzees.  The disease is highly contagious and very deadly.  Fortunately, a new vaccine is available.  But the vaccine is expensive, and it is difficult to administer to the chimpanzees.  Due to these complications, only a select few of the entire colony of chimpanzees can be vaccinated.  How do you choose?

Any time one is faced with such a problem, the first step should be to collect some data.   In this situation we need to learn about how the disease might spread through the population.  We need to learn about which chimpanzees have contact with each other. Perhaps there are certain chimpanzees that bridge different groups. We probably should also know how infectious the disease is, how long is a chimpanzee infectious for, which chimpanzee is likely to be the first to get the disease and other important factors.

Let’s say that you have your data, you know about how this disease is spread, and you want to identify the optimal set of chimpanzees to vaccinate.  How can we do this?  Lives are at stake and we have limited resources.  The pressure is on and we need to make the right choice!   Continue reading

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Silly (Mental) Images Generator

Every Monday night I like to unwind from a long day of teaching statistics by drawing and painting with my friend (who happens to be an artistic genius) Christopher Tradowsky.  Often our drawings and paintings involve scenarios involving human/animal interaction that are unlikely to occur in real life.  Here is a small sampling of our collaboration:

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I am on a class-taking spree.  I finished up Practical Machine Learning Coursera class, and just started in on the Developing Data Products class. What is a data product?  Here’s a short description of the course:  Continue reading

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Hollywood Walk of Fame

Earlier this month, I read in a Gawker article that Bill Cosby’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was defiled.   This got me wondering if there are other people who have stars on the Walk of Fame who have been accused of crimes.  So I went to Wikipedia’s list to see if I could glean anything.  It turns out that there are far too many Hollywood stars than I care to read about so I decided to do some data scraping and analysis.

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An Open Relationship with R: Learning Python


I’ve decided that its time to learn Python.  While I feel very comfortable using R to scrape data from the internet, bring together different datasets, clean, analyze, and visualize data, there are a few things that R isn’t totally super at.  For example, sometimes I think that my R programs are running slow (especially when they require loops).

At any rate, I love R, and I am by no means leaving R behind (this is starting to feel like the “it’s not you it’s me” talk) but I want to try new things.  This can only add to my appreciation of R.  At least, that’s what I’m telling some weird anthropomorphized version of R in my head.  Apparently I’m trying to break it to R gently.

So enough of that foolishness!  Here’s what I am doing to learn Python:

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Animated Gif with R Code and Dataset

I had such a good time making animated gifs of weather data, I decided to go back for more.  Here is an animation of the low temperatures from January 1,  to April 1, 2014.  See if you can spot a polar vortex:


If you would like to do something similar I am attaching the code here.

More information about the data can be found on my previous post.

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My First Animated Gifs! (with R)

Ever since I found this tutorial yesterday, I have been so excited to be making animated gifs in R.  In fact, last night as I was laying my head upon my pillow, I almost couldn’t fall asleep because I kept thinking about all of the possibilities!  This could be great for visualizing different distributions in my probability class, or by trying to find some patterns in large data sets.  There are so many possibilities, my mind is boggled.

So today I put the tutorial to use, and made this animation.  Can you guess what it is?


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Fun with USGS Earthquake Data

I have been playing around with mapping data in R using the maps package.


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I Stand Corrected… Or Do I?

Just yesterday I received an email from Dr. Douglas Furton, a Physics Professor at Grand Valley State University.  Dr. Furton had read my blog post about One-Handed Solitaire in which I used simulations to find the probability of winning such a game.  Finding himself interested in this problem, he contacted me and requested to see my R script.  Sadly, my R script from two years ago (when I wrote that post) is no longer with us.  Let this be a lesson to me that I never forget: always save to Dropbox!

But Dr. Furton’s email put a bee in my bonnet, so I ended up writing new code which is here.  Now, it seems my new code gives me an answer that contradicts the answer that I had arrived at in my post from 2 years ago.  Continue reading

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My Picks for JSM 2014

Here we are in the middle of the summer.  The humidity is reaching peak levels.  Offices are vacant as people venture out for their much awaited vacations.  And as hard it is for me to believe, JSM (Joint Statistical Meetings) 2014 is right around the corner.  

I am really looking forward to so much about JSM this year, not the least of which is all the restaurants I plan to go to in Boston, which merits its own post.  After spending many happy hours perusing the JSM Online Program, I have found several sessions I am really excited about.  Here are a few of my picks for JSM 2014.  It should be said that I am really interested in Networks and Statistical Education which will be reflected in my picks below:

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A Statistical Analysis of the Humans of New York Blog


The students in my Intro Statistics classes are diligently working on their Statistics Projects.  Every time I meet with a project group, I get excited and inspired by their ideas.  So what to do with all that inspiration?  Why not do a statistical analysis of Humans of New York; one of the most popular photo blogs of all time?

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More about that please…

ImageI was reading this article in the New York Times about the same sex marriage case in Michigan.  Nothing particularly remarkable was said until I got to this one-sentence paragraph:

At times, the eight days of testimony resembled a droning college seminar in statistical methodology. 

As my eyes alighted upon the words “college seminar in statistical methodology” my heart started beating faster.  I leaned forward in my office chair.  I found myself hoping that the article would go into detail about the statistical methodology at issue in this case. Sadly, my hopes were dashed! Maybe next time…  

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The Stuff that Makes a Researcher

File:Albert Einstein Head cleaned.jpg


Chad Topaz, a Math professor at Macalester College wrote an interesting blog entry on undergraduate research over at siam.org.  Chad explains that many undergraduates tend to be unduly intimidated by Research:

I think the view that research necessitates genius is counterproductive and inaccurate. I worry that some students who might make meaningful contributions to the world through research (while of course, there are many other equally valuable ways besides research) are turned off by research-fear before they even start. 

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Summer Math Program for Women Undergraduates at Carleton

Are you a woman undergraduate who is interested in math? Do you know a woman undergraduate who is interested in math? Watch this video and learn about the amazing Summer Math Program at Carleton College. You can learn more about it here: http://www.math.carleton.edu/smp/

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The year is 2013… the International Year of Statistics.  Dr. Susan Murphy is a biostatistician working in causal inference at the University of Michigan.  And she is now a MacArthur Genius!  Congratulations to Dr. Murphy on being recognized for her important work!  

Want to be a genius?  Try statistics!  

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I just defended my dissertation. I simultaneously want to take a three-years nap, and do a victory lap around campus. Hurray!


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Advice for new college students

Here’s some great advice from Smith College President Kathleen McCartney.  I absolutely agree.  Here she recounts a story from her days as an undergraduate at Tufts:

I was a strong student when I entered college. I was good at “doing school.” But my sophomore year at Tufts University helped me discover my passion. Taking my first class in child development, I was fascinated by the experiments psychologists designed to infer how children learn. Homework for that course felt like play. Despite my reticence (a quality reinforced by my identity as a first-generation college student) I found the strength to seek out my professor during her office hours to volunteer in her research lab. This experience led to graduate school, which led to a career as a professor, which led to the job I have today. I took a risk—for me, a big risk—and it paid off.


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A Sample of Stats Songs

There is something about statistics that inspires people to break into song and (sometimes) choreographed dance.  Here are a few videos of people who made the sound decision to video themselves doing just that:

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Emails to New Grad Students

Here it is July 22, 2013!  Unless the structure of time and/or the academic calendar has changed, that means that many thousands of people are about to embark on the wondrous adventure of graduate school in a mere month or so.  I have been on a grad school journey that has involved 2 masters degrees, an almost complete PhD (I’m getting close!) and spanned 3 states and 8 years.  A little while ago a friend of mine who was about to start a masters degree emailed me (and her other grad school experienced buddies) to ask for general grad school advice.  Here is what I wrote:

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Statistical Performance Art Competitors: I Challenge Thee!

The American Statistical Association is holding a competition to help commemorate their 175th year:

Entrants will submit a short (<5 min.) video of their statistically themed performance online by January 1, and an esteemed panel of judges will notify finalists by February 1. During the ASA 175th Birthday Party on Tuesday evening at JSM 2014 in Boston, finalists will perform live before the JSM audience, which will vote wirelessly to select the ASA’s Got Talent winners.

Details about the competition can be found here.   My mind is reeling… there are so many possibilities.

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Screwing Up the National Anthem

SFW National Anthem Analysis

I just saw this NSFW (due to language) data visualization & analysis by Reuben Fischer-Baum of when singers of the United States’ national anthem first flub the lyrics based on 26 youtube videos. I slightly altered their graphic to make it safe for work, but I think you will get the idea.

Apparently, the lyrics which posed the greatest challenge for the singers in the videos are “were so gallantly streaming”.  This is a fun idea for analysis, and I enjoyed reading about it, but I think it could easily be made even more interesting and informative.

Here are my suggestions:

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Getting an edge on “battleship”


If you have youngsters in your life, you may have had the experience of playing different games of skill and chance with them.  And though you may be taller, have many more years of experience to draw from, and are far more patient, these young competitors will not cease until you are utterly vanquished and verbally acknowledge their superiority.  I speak from experience as I have been humbled by 5 year olds on more than one occasion.

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Bald Associates


A recent meta-analysis in BMJ on the association between baldness and coronary heart disease has gotten a lot of press (see NYT and Boston Globe).  Looking at the comments section for these articles you can see that some readers are jokingly conflating this association with causality:

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Graduate Student Statistics Teaching Inventory

Andrew Gelman’s blog links to this survey of graduate students’ experiences TA’ing or teaching statistics courses. If you fit the bill, consider filling it out. It only took me about 5 minutes and will add to research on statistics education.

Update: the survey is no longer looking for study participants. I will link to the results if/when they are made available.

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Capital Bikeshare Data Release

ImageThe Simply Statistics Blog‘s “Sunday Statistics Roundups” are always an interesting read.  These posts tend to bring together links about statistics in the news, contests, conferences, and also data sets.  This week’s roundup had a link to a really interesting data set on the bike trip histories from Capital Bikeshare.

As you may imagine Capital Bikeshare is a bike sharing program in Washington, DC. Members of this service can go to any bike station (locations here), borrow a bike, and return the bike to any station they like.  Membership plans can vary in length from three days to a year.

I imagine Capital Bikeshare uses their data to try to understand where new stations should be put, which stations need to have more bike parking spaces, and how often to maintain bicycles.  While they aren’t making available full access to their data (which is good because it would be creepy to be able to track individual people’s locations and trips) there is still a lot to be learned from the data they released.

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Peer Review

I am pretty new to the role of journal article referee. Recently I searched for tips and guidelines for peer reviewing, and I sure did find a lot of information.  I’ve compiled a list of helpful links below.  While some of the links are subject specific, I think that each link contains useful tips for anyone looking to improve their reviewing (myself included). Continue reading

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Tomorrow I head off to Orlando for ENAR where I will be presenting a poster on Sunday night. If you are at ENAR and are inclined, drop by my poster to say hi.

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I am excited about attending the Joint Statistical Meetings in Montreal for several reasons, but I am even more excited now.  Nate Silver of election predicting fame will be giving the President’s Invited Address.  

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Happy International Year of Statistics!  I am going to celebrate by analyzing social network data in my favorite cafe.

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Art of Science

I just found out that my submission is going to be included in the Art of Science Exhibition, which is sponsored by the Brown University Division of Biology and Medicine Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.  Here is the invitation if you are interested in attending the opening on November 14th: Continue reading

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Now Online: Article on Changes in Reported Sexual Orientation and Substance Use

The article that I wrote with Sari ReisnerDavid WypijBryn AustinHeather CorlissMargie Rosario, and Allegra Gordon is now online at the Journal of Adolescent Health website.  Here is the link.

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