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Every Friday morning, Jason Fine walks into the Michael Hooker Atrium at the School of Public Health, finds a table with some nearby comfortable chairs and sets up his laptop computer. He also places a sign that reads “Biostatistics Walk-in Clinic” and a sign that lists times of availability.
Amid the smell of coffee from the Atrium Café and the bright, streaming sunlight from the high ceilings, Fine dispenses an hour and a half of advice, guidance and chat that can make research easier for people with questions about a research project.
The Friday consultation is among a number of walk-in statistical consulting clinics that are available for researchers to meet with biostatistics faculty. The clinics, offered through the NC Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, are part of the Biostatistics Collaboration Initiative, which is run by Fine, and provide collaboration in biomedical research.
Fine said the clinics are ideal for investigators who need to flesh out ideas for a new study or are not sure about the need for a statistician. People can contact Fine before coming to a clinic or just walk in. They can sit down with him for a half an hour and chat freely about their needs.
Fine considers himself a scientific advisor, someone who thinks rigorously about how to do science and can offer advice on collecting and cleaning data.
“It’s a type of outreach that makes research easier,” said Fine, who is in charge of collaborative services within the NC TraCS Biostatistics Core. “We can speed up research and help them understand how they can use the clinics. During a normal consultation I get a sense for the issues.”
Fine and his visitors can talk through a project to see where the researcher is in his thinking, what the end points of the study are, and what the researcher has thought about the analysis.
“Issues come up in the design of any new study,” Fine said. “I help researchers design a study that matches up with the end point.”
Fine said he gets two or three visitors at each session. One of his success stories involved a researcher from Family Medicine. The woman wanted to study teenagers who are at-risk for sexually transmitted diseases. She had designed an intervention that started with the kids’ parents and looked at how the parents approached their kids and communicated about testing. Fine raised concerns about the intervention and advised her to focus more on communicating with the kids. The woman modified her study design and primary end point as a result of consulting with Fine.
Fine likes helping researchers refine their thinking and feels he is making a contribution through the clinics.
“That’s how we can be effective – just by someone dropping in. It’s the meshing of statistics and science,” he said. “I find it very satisfying to be helpful.”
Times for the walk-in clinics can vary from week to week, so Fine advises researchers to visit the web site and set up a time to drop in on a clinic.
The Institute also offers clinics in Grant and Career Development Resources, Proposal and Career Development Resources, Regulatory and Protocol Guidance, Pharmacometrics, Child Health, and Community Engagement. Clinics are updated weekly at the NC TraCS website at tracs.unc.edu. To schedule a one-on-one consultation appointment visit tracs.unc.edu, complete and submit a consultation form.