University of Washington School of Public Health

Graduate Student Profile


Jiacheng Wu

PhD student, Biostatistics
Hometown: Shanghai, China

Why did you choose biostatistics?

Studying biostatistics gives me the opportunity to work with people from different fields and I find it rewarding to help them design and analyze experiments. I also know that biostatistics isn't easy. It requires years of training in mathematics and experience in real-world data analysis. I believe that my training and passion for biostatistics can contribute to important public health and medical problems.

Why did you choose the UW?

UW has one of the best biostatistics programs in the U.S. It's a rigorous program with training in both statistical theory and application. Faculty here have broad research interests including clinical trials, genetics, electronic health records, causal inference and machine learning. I can work with leading researchers in the field, and the department has close connections with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children's Hospital, Harborview Medical Center and other medical institutions.

What kind of research are you doing?

I am developing a type of penalized regression in the field of statistical learning with Daniela Witten. My current project is to develop interpretable and flexible models for survival data. In clinical trials, we have a time-to-event outcome subject to censoring and we usually use Cox’s proportional hazard model to estimate the covariate effects—namely, how the hazard of death varies with different values of covariates. My contribution is to fit piecewise constant and piecewise polynomial with adaptively chosen knots for the covariate effects using trend filtering penalty.

How would you describe the benefits of your research?

For example, when using my method, physicians can decide the threshold for age or biomarkers above which the hazard of death from certain disease increases. It is more informative and flexible than current approaches. Since most of the clinical trial has survival outcome, my research will provide insight into how patient-specific characteristics can affect survival.

What are your future goals?

I am currently working on a project comparing different predictive models. I am also working on a project evaluating the vaccine efficacy in HIV vaccine trials. I am open to both industrial and academic opportunities. I want to work in a collaborative environment with people from different fields.

What do you like most about Seattle?

Seattle is a big city with many tech companies, so it’s convenient for students to find internships. There are lots of restaurants and museums to explore as well. Seattle is close to three national parks, and the outdoor culture is great. 

What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

I like weightlifting and working out in the gym. It’s a good way to relax after a day of study and research. I also enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, cycling and camping. And I like to go out with friends and explore restaurants.  

What advice would you give to prospective students?

As a student, you can build a good foundation of statistical theory and applications at UW. The department has close ties with statistics and other departments. The faculty have diverse research interests and you can always find leading researchers to work with in the field. Our alumni are located all over the world in industry and academics, and these connections are important for future success.

Learn more about the PhD program in Biostatistics.

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