Meet Arvon Clemons, MS student in statistical and computational genomics


Part of what led Arvon Clemons to Pitt Public Health was the city of Pittsburgh. He felt a connection to a city that was similar to his hometown of St. Louis. His academic background doesn’t feel as congruous with his current study. But ultimately, both the city and the program are turning out to be a good fit.

Clemons studied biochemistry and biotechnology at the University of Missouri in a dual degree program that allowed him to graduate with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in the same program. He learned about public health originally while researching potential biological jobs, first coming across epidemiology. Then, he got the opportunity to work as a clinical research assistant at Washington University in St. Louis and that helped solidify his interest and got him leaning toward biostatistics.

“I got to learn firsthand a lot about how public health and clinical research is done. I got the opportunity to meet a lot of public health professionals and doctors and opportunities to see different visiting professors from different institutions.

I learned about biostatistics and the importance of biostatistics. There is a bit of disparity or a gap in the clinicians, the people that generate the information and the statisticians that actually analyze the stuff. I found that there was a type of demand and need. Coming from a very large microbiology background, I felt like I could bridge that gap in understanding.”

Pitt Public Health’s new MS concentration in statistical and computational genomics allows Clemons to study what he’s most interested in. “Primarily, my interest in coming to Pitt was the certificates and specializations available. For my interests and my background, I’m more interested in genetic factors and how that plays into disease progression, so the degree in computational genetics really seems to fit the bill in what I’m interested in and the skills I want to gain.”

Another thing that he learned at Washington University in St. Louis was to get a sense of the work style that he likes best – and connecting with that community he was investing in. He worked on a project studying MRSA in the community, both running things in the laboratory but also visiting study participants in their homes, taking swabs and studying the incidence and how to decolonize people’s homes. MRSA is a stubborn pathogen with frequent reoccurrence.

“That very mixed combination of field trip and lab work and office work, I like that a lot. It broke up the monotony. [You’re] not always at the lab. Not always at the computer desk. I also got to see the people that we were helping in our the study so that makes the impact a little bit more personal and helps a lot, especially because I was working with children and so I saw many young families…some of the people in my study were there for a long time and [got to] see the children grow up.”

Clemons is in his first term at Pitt Public Health. He’s just started working in the Department of Biomedical Informatics and is still looking for his specific research area. “I would love to do my thesis on either genetic or environmental factors that play into host pathogen interactions with infectious diseases, so factors that play into the prevention or progression of a disease,” leveraging his microbiology background.

“I chose Pitt because it was a city that has a very low cost of living. It reminded me a lot of St. Louis and I had a great time when I visited during the Accepted Applicants weekend.” There is an urban biking community with bike lanes and great organizations like Bike Pittsburgh that make it easy for an urban explorer like Clemons, who loves to bike. He’s only commuting to campus by bike so far. Pittsburgh is also a great city for foodies, another of Clemons’ interests. He also loves craft beer and enjoys visiting different breweries. He’s found a home away from home here.

“Other than exploring the city and the campus and seeing the facilities – what really helped me [to decide on Pitt Public Health] was meeting the other students in the program. It really helped me to alleviate my concerns given that biostatistics seemed like a degree that a lot of people would have a background in computer science or mathematics and I came from a primarily biological background. But I met other students, some that had a major biology undergraduate degree and that kind of helped to alleviate that concern. Also people were really supportive and affirmed that the professors here are very open and have an open approach.”

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