Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Born and raised in Maryland, Briana Stephenson attended and received her bachelor of science degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She spent her summer and winter sessions working at the National Cancer Institute researching the role of hemoglobin in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) genes. She was named a Fogarty International Research Fellow and through this fellowship worked at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro studying the neurobiology of the retina and optic nerve.
Briana moved to Washington, DC after graduation and was hired as a mathematical statistician for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA). She conducted evaluation analysis on ORA programs and undertook tasks related to FDA’s mission and operations activities. While at FDA, Briana completed the master’s program in Biostatistics at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. After receiving her MPH, she was appointed an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow, working as a Senior Statistician at the Department of Defense (DOD) Force Health Protection & Readiness Program. As a fellow, Briana provided statistical support, evaluation, and analysis of psychological health screenings, prevention and treatment programs for military personnel. Briana’s work at DOD and the statistical challenges encountered stimulated her research interests in population health methodology. She returned to school to pursue her doctorate in Biostatistics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, collaborating with clinicians from the schools of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Through support of a T32 research training grant from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, Briana developed Bayesian nonparametric clustering methods to identify maternal diet consumption patterns in the United States and its role on orofacial cleft outcomes. She was awarded several travel awards to present her research at national and international conferences, and received recognition for her work. These conferences included the 2015 International Society for Bayesian Analysis Conference on Bayesian Nonparametrics, where she received the Junior Researcher poster award and the 2018 International Biometric Society’s Eastern North American Region (ENAR), where her research paper, Robust Clustering with Subpopulation-specific Deviations was awarded the Distinguished Student Paper (later published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association). Briana’s dissertation was also recognized with the UNC Gillings Dissertation Award for Public Health Impact.
Briana continued to expand and explore innovative and practical model-based clustering techniques as a postdoctoral fellow for the UNC Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center. With the support of a supplement grant on the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, she was able to broaden her techniques in machine learning and Bayesian nonparametrics, to investigate differences in dietary behaviors among US Hispanic/Latino populations and its role in cardiometabolic disease.
Briana’s research interest in model-based clustering continues to expand to other areas of public health, including health policy and disparities research. It is her desire that her research will provide smarter and interpretable solutions for addressing complicated population health problems.