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Himmelfarb Headlines: Faculty Profile - Interview with Dr. Juan Klopper, Teaching Associate Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics

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Faculty Profile - Interview with Dr. Juan Klopper, Teaching Associate Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics

Staff Profile

Himmelfarb Library continues this feature in our newsletter that lets us become better acquainted with our friends and colleagues at the George Washington University. In this issue, we learn more about Dr. Juan Klopper, Teaching Associate Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, and about the work you are currently engaged in?
I am an associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses in health data science, research methods, biostatistics, R, Python, and categorical data analysis. My research interests are purely clinical, though, as I was an attending surgeon for 20 years, serving as the Head of the Acute Care Surgery Unit at Groote Schuur Hospital, University of Cape Town.

What inspired you to work in your field?
After qualifying as a surgeon I also studied mathematics at the University of South Africa. Two years ago, the South African Medical Council (the HPCSA) introduced a change in the regulations for registering as a medical specialist, requiring any resident who wanted to register as a specialist (attending) to have conducted clinical research. This sudden change in policy meant that not many institutions had resources in place to support these research efforts. As a surgeon with training in mathematics, I was in an ideal position to build this support infrastructure. This included direct supervision of many research programs, but also the development of many education resources and courses. This included online courseware for which I received much international recognition. The last 10 years have also seen the proper birth of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). The current approach to AI is mathematical and I have also created courses on linear algebra and calculus that are the basis for the models that we use today.

What brought you to GW?
I joined The George Washington University (GWU) in July 2022. The Milken Institute School of Public Health has a tremendous standing in the country and also internationally. The Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, in particular, has some of the most respected faculty in the world. When the opportunity arose, it was both an honor and an easy decision to join.

What is your favorite aspect of your work?
There is no doubt that the favorite aspect of my work is the engagement that I have with the students of GWU. While I was acutely aware of the quality of the faculty and staff in the School, it is such a wonderful experience to teach and work with some of the best students that I have ever seen. Students in the School are the future leaders in public health and so many of them have an absolutely bright future ahead.

Could you describe the new research methods class you designed?
I was very excited to be tasked with working on a new course on research methods. With some hard work, it is always possible to become a domain expert. A part of being an expert can involve research. Often, though, engagement with research is not formally taught. Instead many are just required to pick it up along the way. The course aims to provide a solid foundation in research, all the way from developing a research question to producing a final research manuscript, sharing the results, and considering the response and impact of your work. The first cohort of over 30 students produced wonderful research projects and I am very proud of them. I also had wonderful support from the Library as well as the Institutional Review Board during the semester.

What has been your most memorable moment and your greatest professional challenge?
The COVID-19 pandemic was by far the biggest challenge of my professional career. As a surgeon, it was difficult to cut back on our surgical services as we started to be inundated by those suffering from the virus. For two years I joined the ranks of treating those unfortunate to fall seriously ill. As a surgeon, you are equipped to deal with a certain type of patient management and treating a medical condition of such serious nature was not immediately natural. It was difficult to deal with the mortality rate. It was especially difficult to see friends and colleagues fighting alongside you, then get sick, and die. My heart still goes out to everyone who has lost loved ones and who continue to do so, even today. I am very thankful for everyone who puts their lives on the line so that we may be safe. I did a military rotation during my residency and I always include our military in this regard.

Which library resource or service have you found to be most useful?
I have nothing but praise for the library services at GWU. I have not been here long enough to explore all the services provided by the library system, but the kindness, helpfulness, but especially the skills, knowledge, experience, and hard work that I have seen are phenomenal.

How do you spend your free time?
My wife and I love to explore DC and the surrounding areas. The history and culture is second to none. I will not forget the first time I saw the White House. It was a strangely emotional experience. My favorite spot in DC is the Kennedy Center, though. I highly recommend visiting the permanent exhibition of the life of the 35th President of the United States of America to anyone who has not been there.

What advice would you give to a new faculty member just starting at GW?
To any new faculty at GWU I say congratulations, you have made a fantastic decision to join us. Your opportunities are endless. Go and do something great.