Meet Ruishen Lyu, MS student in biostatistics


Ruishen Lyu (BIOST MS '20)'s hometown is in southeastern China, “kind of like Miami,” he says. He studied preventative medicine at China Medical University, graduating in 2018 before coming to Pitt Public Health to begin his master’s degree in biostatistics.

Studying preventative medicine led him to biostatistics, and he got into preventative medicine itself for two main reasons: his family wanted him to be a doctor and he wanted to help people. “I wanted to work in public health because a doctor can only treat one person at a time but when you do biostatistics, like with clinical trials, you can help a bunch of people at one time. I want to help anyone with a health issue.”

Lyu describes preventative medicine as “like public health but with a different name,” and in his bachelor's degree program he studied biostatistics, epidemiology, toxicology, and environmental health. “All the [public health] subjects.” He was gaining interest in public health, and then in his last year, he got a data management internship at Pfizer. “It’s not really biostatistics but it’s related. That really helped me to understand what a pharmaceutical company looks like, what industry looks like.” He became quite interested in data and analytics and at that point, he made up his mind. His next step would be a graduate degree in the field of biostatistics. “And as we all know, the U.S. has the best education in the world and so I came here to pursue that.”

Just like with preventative medicine, Lyu had two main reasons for choosing Pitt from among the other universities to which he was accepted. The first was the great reputation of a large research university like the University of Pittsburgh. The second was the program itself and what it offered. In researching the academic components of the program and hearing from students and alums via online message boards, Lyu learned of small classes with professors that can pay individual attention to each student. At Pitt Public Health, he found an MS that combined theoretical knowledge with applied courses – something very important for a biostatistics program. Pittsburgh didn’t hurt either. Lyu finds it both extremely affordable and beautiful. He says he’s grateful to attend Pitt Public Health. 

Lyu likes the program. The professors have been great and he finds the courses appropriately rigorous. From the introductory courses to the more advanced. He’s pleased with opportunities beyond the classroom too, like the consulting lab they had in the fall term. “The professor will ask for clients with her own resources and we can connect with clients and the clients will have some different tasks that require some data analysis. That’s a very great opportunity that we can just apply what we’ve learned in a real world situation.”

Lyu is also a student ambassador for the Department of Biostatistics, a new program they are trying out. “One day, Dr. Youk just emailed us – me and Kayleigh [Adamson] – and talked about this position and wanted to give us this opportunity. I think they found out that we are more active and we’ve had accomplishments in academia.” As ambassadors, Lyu and Adamson are holding events and seeking feedback from fellow students about their experience here. Like a town hall held in the fall in which Lyu and Adamson asked peers why they chose Pitt, what they liked about their programs, and what they might want to improve. “I think that the main goal is that we want to collect all of that feedback so that our program can become better," says Lyu. They will also talk to prospective students during events like Open House, making them more familiar with the program and how everything works. Lyu thinks the ambassador program will be a helpful resource for both prospective applicants and new students. 

“For international students, it’s kind of hard for us at first to fit in in this environment but those classmates that are local are very friendly and gradually we just connect with each other and become very great friends.”

Now in his second year, Lyu is focusing on machine learning – reinforcement learning, to be exact. “The title of my thesis is Reinforcement Learning. You know Google? So, that is artificial intelligence. It’s so smart that it can even compete with humans, for example playing chess. My thesis is in the ICU [and having] the most optimal decisions when doctors have to do some kind of treatment. The artificial intelligence will be even better and quicker than the doctors. It’s very interesting. I’m very interested in machine learning because I feel like it’s the future of data science.”

To friends and family, he describes his work as “dealing with data, but in the field of health. But also if I’m talking to my friends, I just say I’m Chandler in Friends. His occupation is kind of similar to mine, “ Lyu says, referencing the character from the beloved 90’s sitcom. Chandler Bing works in "statistical analysis and data reconfiguration" but his pals notoriously don’t understand what that means. Lyu is not sure yet exactly what he might want to do upon graduation. He is considering a PhD program and talking to peers about the potential for knowledge growth that comes along with that advanced degree. He also might like to be a biostatistician in a pharmaceutical company or a hospital setting. His goals further down the line are less defined. He wants a full career helping people, but when he thinks of what that might look like – it’s not a dream job that comes to mind. “I’m not a very job-oriented person. I feel like life is more important. I can help people when I’m doing my job and that’s very great but I also want to have a very good life so I think that the job is just part of life and so in the future – maybe in ten years – I just want a very good life. Living in cities – like New York City – and to have a very wonderful life."

In his spare time, Lyu is quite artistic. He studied Chinese calligraphy and Chinese painting as a child, and now he’s into photography with skills in Photoshop and video editing. Five years ago, he and some of his friends in China started a non-profit art education program for underprivileged children, Art Speaks. They grew partnerships with over 100 organizations and universities and each year, Art Speaks asks these partners to collect and exhibit paintings from children in the program. They hold art exhibition fundraisers in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

“We felt like we had privilege because we had the chance to get an education and a normal life, but those children in the mountains and poor areas, they don’t even have a chance to go to school. So I believe we cannot do much for them. We don’t have resources for them, but maybe we can choose one part: art education.”

To those students thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in biostatistics, Lyu’s advice is simple: choose a program and a career path that suits you. For him, that’s biostatistics at Pitt Public Health. “Pitt is a very great program and it’s improving. It has two new tracks, one is health data science and one is in statistical and computational genomics. I feel like they are trying to do something for the master’s students. They want us to have more well-rounded knowledge to help us so that it’s easier for us to get into industry after graduation.”

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