PhD Graduate Spotlight: Dr Farzana Jahan

Dr Farzana Jahan recently left our Centre to take up a new role in Western Australia. She just returned to QUT for her PhD graduation ceremonies and we caught up with her for a conversation about her time here at QUT.

How did you come to do a PhD at QUT?

Farzana with Centre Director Kerrie Mengersen

While working as a lecturer in Applied Statistics at East West University in Bangladesh, a grant from World Bank allowed me to visit QUT and ACEMS as a visiting fellow for a month during in 2016, with Professor Kerrie Mengersen as my supervisor for the visit. I really liked the energy, the environment, and the people I got to meet and give a talk to. Kerrie was especially encouraging. I was looking for PhD opportunities at the time and realised during that visit that this would be the perfect spot for me. After going through the admission and scholarship process, I was able to come and start my PhD with Kerrie in August 2017.

What was your research about?

One of the main challenges for researchers looking into health questions on a broader scale is not having access to individual health data from a lot of people. My research focused on developing new statistical methods for analysing summary data that can be downloaded from many online health atlases. I used data from the Australian Cancer Atlas to develop Bayesian models to analyse small area level data. I have published two papers on this topic involving univariate and multivariate models. Then I also extended a Bayesian semiparametric modelling approach for modelling small area level data using Bayesian Empirical likelihood. I have used a few benchmark datasets such as Scottish lip cancer data, North Carolina infant mortality data and data on COVID 19 deaths from Europe to illustrate the application of my models and published a paper in PLOS one from this research.

What else did you do at QUT besides your PhD?

I have always loved teaching. During the first year of my PhD, I realised I was missed interacting with students and having classes. So, I started teaching lab and tutorial classes with the School of Maths. After my first semester, I took on some more hours, and did a guest lecture in the Master of Data Analytics unit. During the third year of PhD, I lectured in the 3rd year Maths unit, the Master of Data Analytics unit and in the first year Statistics unit. Apart from teaching and research, I was a member of ACEMS Postgraduate Students committee and organized the Centre’s Students’ retreat in 2018. This allowed me to build my networks by meeting wonderful people from other universities. Before COVID, I used to present my research works in many conferences interstate and attended an overseas conference and training in France.

Any surprises along the way?

It’s not really a surprise, but I was still overwhelmed by how my husband stepped up for me during my PhD. He left his well-settled job in Bangladesh to come with me to Australia and support me and our 2-year-old son. I was concentrating on my research when he was holding down the fort. He became the primary carer for my son, so that I could go away to conferences. Now that I have completed this journey and our son is in school, he  has started his studies so that he could build a good career for himself. I can’t thank him enough for pausing his career and doing casual work for 5 years so that I could focus on my career.

How was your experience with the Data Science Centre?

Right after my PhD thesis submission, I got a job as a postdoctoral research fellow in CDS. It was such a great place to start my career. It provided so many opportunities for me to grow, and not just as a researcher. I got to meet many people, both from academia and industry, and worked in several multidisciplinary teams. I also lead initiatives such as a Datathon and the Data Science for Social Good program. I believe CDS is a place which supports ECRs in every possible way and I was very lucky to have worked there.

What are you doing now?

I am now a Lecturer in Statistics at Murdoch University in Western Australia. After doing a PhD and then working as a postdoc in the same place and with the same people, I was very comfortable at CDS. I felt I needed to challenge myself to work in a different place with new people and learn and gather more experience. So far it is going well. I hope I will be able to continue my career in academia.

Congratulations, Farzana!

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