Sep 2, 2016

Profile: Susan Murphy

As we reported in the June/July issue, Susan Murphy was among five IMS Fellows elected this year to the National Academy of Sciences. We featured a profile of Larry Wasserman in the last issue, and we’ll bring you profiles of the others—Steve Evans, Yuval Peres and Nancy Reid—in future issues.

In May, Susan A. Murphy was elected to the US National Academy of Sciences. The NAS recognized Susan’s innovative research, particularly her development of the sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial (SMART), and her more recent work on just-in-time adaptive interventions (JITAIs). Susan has developed innovative research approaches to improve the personalization of treatment. SMART is an experimental design tool, allowing scientists to build empirically based interventions that adapt to patient characteristics and treatment responses. JITAIs use real-time data from mobile technologies to deliver personalized behavioral interventions exactly when they are needed. Susan’s work has wide impact: SMARTs are used to address cocaine abuse, depression, problem drinking, obesity, ADHD and autism; JITAIs are mobile health interventions to help people, for example, quit smoking or increase activity levels.

Susan Murphy obtained her BS in Mathematics (in 1980) from Louisiana State University; an MS in Statistics (1983) from Tulane University; and her PhD in Statistics (“Time-Dependent Coefficients in a Cox-Type Regression Model” supervised by P.K. Sen, in 1989) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her early career, Susan worked at the Louisiana State University Medical School, Loyola University, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the University of North Carolina and Penn State. Working at the University of Michigan since 1998, she currently holds joint appointments as the H.E. Robbins Distinguished University Professor of Statistics, professor of psychiatry in the Institute of Medicine, and as research professor in the Institute for Social Research. Susan is a Fellow of IMS and ASA, an Elected Member of ISI and the US National Academy of Medicine, a Fellow of the College of Problems in Drug Dependence, and is a MacArthur Foundation Fellow for 2014–18. She was Co-editor of the Annals of Statistics (2007–2009), was a member of IMS Council (2013–16), and is President-Elect of the Bernoulli Society. She has delivered numerous keynote and plenary lectures, including last year’s Wald Lectures at JSM in Seattle.

Marie Davidian, William Neal Reynolds Professor at North Carolina State University, says, “I first met Susan when we were both graduate students in the early 1980s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Even then, it was clear that Susan possessed extraordinary mathematical talent. She relentlessly pursued collaborations with some of the foremost statistical scientists in the world, learning from them and expanding her knowledge and skills. The payoff was enormous. Working with Aad van der Vaart in The Netherlands, in the late 20th century Susan produced a breakthrough in statistical theory in a series of papers that are now considered fundamental.”

Marie explains, “This work developed a rigorous theoretical framework for inference within the classes of nonparametric and semi-parametric models. Although foundational statistical theory for inference within the traditional class of parametric models, which are familiar but rather restrictive tools for the analysis of complex data, was well understood, for this more flexible class it was still in development. Susan’s innovation in bringing the powerful mathematical theory of empirical processes to bear on this problem revolutionized our field; the approach pioneered by Susan is now a standard one that has been used by numerous researchers to justify and elucidate the properties of sophisticated new techniques demanded by increasingly complex data for which traditional methods are simply not appropriate.”

Marie concludes, “Not only is [Susan] a brilliant mathematical statistician responsible for fundamental work in statistical theory that has revolutionized the field, she is a visionary leader in promoting and facilitating the application of her ground-breaking work in practice. The impact of her research in both realms has been profound.”

Susan Murphy (right) is a keen ice hockey player

Susan Murphy (right) is a keen ice hockey player

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