Dominic DiSanto found his way to biostatistics itself by way of epidemiology and specifically to the health data science concentration through a combination of his unique passion and a little bit of good timing. DiSanto is from Tennessee, but he’d loved Pittsburgh throughout undergrad, and it already felt like home once it was time to go to grad school. “I do love the city,” said DiSanto. “There’s so many different neighborhoods around here and so many important public health issues around the city. People in Pittsburgh really want to help. They want to help Pittsburgh, they want to help the world. They want to help medicine.”
DiSanto first learned about Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods and passion for our neighbors through the Browne Leadership Fellowship, an opportunity he stumbled upon while getting his bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. “That was one of the ways I really fell in love with Pittsburgh was learning [through the fellowship] all the different neighborhoods around. I worked in Millvale, they are out in Manchester and Oakland – a bunch of other neighborhoods that undergraduate students including myself would never go to.”
While working in a research lab while still an undergrad, DiSanto met some epidemiology and biostatistics students that taught him a bit about the field and about Pitt Public Health. He’d heard of it, but didn’t know a lot about how public health fit in with his interests. The more he learned, the better it sounded. He’d never planned to go to medical school, although a lot of his neuro peers did. “I really enjoy the population-level research that happens here and also enjoy the quantitative analysis and quantitative work and so obviously in biostatistics I really enjoyed that but I was originally interested in the Epi department here and understanding study design, research design, and population-level health.”
After graduating from college, DiSanto took a gap year, working with a physician at UPMC and applying to graduate school. In looking into master’s degrees in epidemiology, he met Pitt Public Health’s Nancy Glynn.
“She really selflessly helped me explore what I was interested in. She’s great. Very helpful.” Through talking to Glynn and to even more students and alumni from biostatistics and epidemiology, DiSanto found he was more interested in data analysis and statistical theory. During his New Student Orientation program he learned that he was joining the department just in time to become one of the first health data science students. Health data science was already where his interests and skills were taking him, but coming in at the beginning of a brand new, dedicated concentration is exciting and will make him more marketable when he’s done with school.
“I’m especially excited about my health data science concentration. It’s a very dynamic skill set and one that translates well to all different kinds of problems. The curriculum in general looks like a very applied curriculum and the idea of having a consulting practicum where you actually work with real researchers and real data is something that I didn’t see in any other program. It seems very focused on a skill set that I can immediately take from my master’s program to work in labs with a strong foundation in things that employer’s look for.”
The hardest part of making the decision to study biostatistics at Pitt Public Health was teling Glynn that he wasn’t going to be joining the Epi department. “She’s one of the reasons I really went to Pitt. The student that I talked to in my lab said she’s an amazing student advocate and he didn’t have that in his master’s program at another school.”
DiSanto is enjoying his first term. He’s glad to be a part of a small but diverse and inspiring cohort. Graduate school is fast-paced, but also hands on. “The professors are really hands on – not only in making sure you’re doing well but that you’re really understanding the material which I think is really important because very quickly you move into applied skills sets and things that you’re going to use in the workforce but without a good foundation, you’re only as good as the tools that people give you.” He’s found the professors willing and available to work with their students to make sure they understand their coursework. And his love of Pittsburgh continues.
“If I’m learning something in class, I’m not learning how to answer an exam problem, I’m learning how to apply something to solve a real-world problem to a degree which is nice in a graduate program but I think especially that Pitt does that well.”
In any spare time that he’s able to carve out, DiSanto likes mini golf and tries to go every weekend. When the weather is nice, at least. He also likes music. He plays the drums, and finds that therapeutic. He’s mostly concentrating on school right now.
“There’s a lot of really awesome things happening – even just within my biostats cohort of six people, let alone in the entire school of public health. I’m definitely happy to offer my perspective but there are a lot of diverse voices everywhere here which is one thing that’s awesome and obviously not going to be represented by my voice here but there are so many different things in the different types of people that are putting these initiatives forward. That’s one thing I really love about the city and the school.”
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