Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Using Statistics to Save Lives

September 10, 2019

A note from Thomas Seacrist, MBE, CIRP DIrector of Training: Today we are pleased to welcome a guest blog post from Sarah (Zhilin) Ye, a sophomore at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Statistics,who shares her insights on interning this past summer at CIRP in collaboration with Wharton as part of the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program (PURM) and why she is staying on at CIRP to continue her research project as a student team member.

To be completely honest, the word “research” never crossed my mind until this past summer. Sure, I am familiar with it, as my mom is a cancer researcher, but I never quite associated myself with this term. When deciding to go to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, my initial goal really was just to find a place within the chaotic world of Wall Street, chunking numbers and designing financial models, at both of which I excel. Then I was given the opportunity to explore a novel career path in research at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in collaboration with The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania as a part of the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program (PURM). Excited, yet with some doubts, I accepted the offer. It was a decision I would soon love and embrace.

Over the summer, I worked with Wharton Statistics Professor Abraham J. Wyner, PhD and CIRP Co-Scientific Director Flaura Koplin Winston, MD, PhD on a project analyzing a set of virtual driving simulation data that is implemented in the state of Ohio’s driver licensing workflow. The driving simulation was performed prior to a first-time license applicant taking the on-road driving test, with results of the on-road test linked to the simulation data. The goal was to use various statistical methods to have a deeper understanding of the data, as well as to build models that predict a driver’s on-road performance based on their virtual driving test data.

Starting from day 1, I engaged in weekly meetings with my professor, where we would share our progress for the week, as well as to plan for next steps. Through these meetings, Professor Wyner taught me, step by step, how to conceptualize and implement the algorithms I would then learn to use. We started by conducting descriptive analysis, which gave me a better overview of the data with which I was working. We then used backward logistic models for variable selections, machine learning for building models, and ROC and AUC for model performance validations.

Sarah (Zhilin) Ye CIRP Student Intern
Sarah (Zhilin) Ye with CIRP Mentor Flaura Winston, MD, PhD

Thinking Outside of the Box

I learned through hitting many roadblocks along the way that the path to a good result is often not linear – research requires many trials and errors. When nothing seems to work, patience and a bit of thinking outside of the box is sometimes just the right key to success.

With Dr. Winston as my CIRP mentor, I received feedback not only on the project itself, but also on my presentation style and public speaking skills. She also gave me the opportunity to learn about some neuroscience as well, particularly how it applies to teen driving, even allowing me to shadow a brain scan.

I enjoyed the interdisciplinary aspect of the project, as well as the collaboration between my school and CIRP. Every two weeks, the entire research team would meet for an exchange of information. Through these bi-weekly meetings, I learned to communicate my research progress to be easily understood by a wide range of audiences outside of the field of statistics.

When I began my internship, it was hard to imagine how my work could have a real impact on people’s lives; yet here I am, drafting an abstract to submit to a major transportation safety conference. It is my hope, as well as my team’s, to transform the way we perceive on-road driving examinations and driver training through the work we do. I look forward to continuing to contribute to this important research, using statistics to save lives, during this coming year as a student team member at CIRP.

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