Carnegie Mellon University
November 26, 2019

Roeder Named 2020 AAAS Fellow

By Stacy W. Kish

Carnegie Mellon University’s Kathryn Roeder, UPMC Professor of Statistics and Life Sciences, has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is being recognized for her distinguished contributions to statistical genetics and genomics methodology, outstanding research in genetics of autism spectrum disorder and contribution to statistical theory for mixture models.

AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of several highly regarded journals. Fellows are elected by their peers to honor their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. This year, AAAS has elevated 443 of its members with this honor.

"Kathryn’s work has had an enormous impact, including in helping to identify the genetic variations that lead to complex diseases and in developing fundamental statistical methods that allow biologists to draw sharper inferences from genetic data,” said Christopher Genovese, head of the Department of Statistics & Data Science. “She has also played an integral role in creating the genetics research community here in Pittsburgh, building bridges between Statistics, Machine Learning, Computational Biology, and other units here and at Pitt."

Roeder started her research career in biology but was soon drawn to statistics. According to Roeder, “every question that interested me could only be answered by solving an even more intriguing statistical puzzle.” Her first major data project was in DNA forensics, helping to solidify the credibility of this form of evidence in the judicial system.

As her scientific career advanced, Roeder transitioned to developing statistical and machine learning tools for finding associations or patterns in data.  She focuses on high dimensional inference problems with applications such as analyzing variation in the whole human genome and how it relates to disease.  Her work has contributed to a better understanding of schizophrenia, autism and other genetic disorders.

“My statistical models have been used to better understand a broad range of scientific phenomena,” Roeder said. “This, for me, is the most satisfying aspect of statistics, when methods you develop are applied to answer important scientific questions.”

Roeder holds a joint appointment at CMU, joining the Department of Statistics & Data Science in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1994 and the Computational Biology Department in the School of Computer Science in 2004. She also served as the university’s vice provost for faculty from July 2015 through June 2019.

Roeder has published more than 150 scholarly articles and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2019. She also is an elected fellow of the American Statistical Association and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics. She received the Snedecor Award for outstanding work in statistical applications, the Janet L. Norwood Award for outstanding achievement by a woman in statistical sciences and the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies Presidents’ Award for the outstanding statistician under age 40.

Roeder previously served as the statistics section chair for AAAS and has played an integral role in organizing conference sections aimed at helping her community improve how statistics are communicated across scientific disciplines, as well as to the public.

“I am deeply honored to receive this recognition by my peers,” said Roeder. “I will continue to push the boundaries of statistics to uncover the genetic underpinnings of diseases and disorders, like autism, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in other fields to translate these findings into biology and therapeutics.”

Roeder is among 33 AAAS Fellows who have called CMU home, and she is the 10th faculty member from the Dietrich College to be named a fellow of this prestigious organization. She will be inducted on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 during the AAAS annual meeting in Seattle.