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Former Statistics Graduate Student Continuing on Path to Success

By Rachel Lorch

The roots of black cohosh, a plant native to the Appalachian region, has served a large variety of needs throughout its history. Progressing from its roles as an acne treatment and insect repellent, black cohosh root is often used today as an herbal supplement.

Gabrielle Miles, a former graduate student in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Statistics, studied black cohosh roots during her time at UK. The project on the plant was a continuation of work she completed as an undergraduate summer field intern with Dr. Jim Chamberlain, Research Forest Products Technologist at the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station.

Miles’ interest in statistics and its application to ecology stems from the requirements of an applied mathematics degree she pursued as an undergraduate at Radford University in Virginia. For the degree in applied mathematics, Miles was required to take two semesters of probability and statistics at Radford. Exposure to the field made Miles aware of statistics’ many applications and planted the seed for her love of statistics. This passion was further fueled by her involvement in a few biology field courses. 

“A whole new world opened up to me. Before I knew it, I was participating in all kinds of projects that used statistics in ecology,” Miles said.

Collecting data on black cohosh roots for Dr. Chamberlain’s study was a natural step for Miles after her introduction to statistics, and extending her work on the project during her graduate studies was a wonderful opportunity for Miles to work more closely with the data.

With support from her graduate advisor, Dr. Simon Bonner, Assistant Professor of Statistics at the University of Kentucky, Miles took a larger role in the project, providing the statistical analysis and justification for the study. Specifically, Miles developed a model for predicting the below ground biomass of black cohosh from measurements of the above ground biomass, a model which supports sustainable harvesting practices.

Miles noted the importance of the support she received from Dr. Bonner to her success with the study and in co-authoring a paper that was published in “Forest Ecology and Management” in 2013.

“Dr. Bonner provided guidance on which methods were appropriate for the project, aided in programming issues I encountered and reviewed numerous draft presentations, abstracts and write-ups for the study so that I could present our work confidently,” Miles said.   

Miles now works as a Senior Biostatistician for Roche Professional Diagnostics in Indianapolis, Indiana, leading and supporting the analysis of clinical trials in a number of therapeutic areas. She hopes to collaborate with Dr. Chamberlain again, providing statistical support for a few of his ongoing projects. Miles would also like to build on her current experience with the goal of moving to a Principle Biostatistician position at Roche Diagnostics.