#UMMCGrad2023: Late bloomer finds his way following three loves
Published on Monday, May 22, 2023
By: Andrea Wright Dilworth, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications
It may be hard to imagine now, but growing up, Brian Christman’s plans had nothing to do with math or medicine.
“As a child, I am positive that I wanted to be a professional baseball player,” said the 24-year-old, a native of Schwenksville, PA. “However, that was certainly never going to happen.
“I don’t think I had any academic career aspirations until I was in high school, despite always liking and performing well in school.”
Once he got to Rhodes College, he thought he had it all figured out.
“When I first started my undergraduate degree, I wanted to be a physician because I wanted to help people, especially kids, to be happy and healthy. But I realized quickly that I am far too squeamish to pursue that career path.”
So he pivoted, again.
After earning a BS in biomathematics, Christman set his sights on the University of Mississippi Medical Center for three reasons: At Rhodes, he’d fallen in love, both with the South and, more importantly, his girlfriend, Athena Tiwari, now a second-year medical student and Jackson native who wanted to move back home to be close to family.
Third? He was born with a congenital heart defect, his motivation for wanting to do health-related research. Initially interested in cardiovascular research, he was drawn to the Jackson Heart Study.
Christman counted himself lucky when he was accepted to the master’s program in data science, part of the School of Population Health. He will earn his degree on May 26.
But he won’t be leaving UMMC just yet; he’ll stay to pursue a PhD in biostatistics and data science, which “afforded me the opportunity to still be involved in medicine, while also allowing me to integrate my passion for mathematics into my work.”
After completing a post-doctoral fellowship, the plan is to pursue what has become his ultimate passion: becoming a college professor.
“It would be easy to see Brian blossoming into a professor who would be particularly effective in teaching,” said Dr. Philip Turk, professor and chair of data science. “What has set him apart from other students has been his taking initiative. I’ve been impressed with his quest to improve his knowledge base, to the point where he has come to me and other professors seeking additional material to read in data science and biostatistics.
“This characteristic is not common among his peers.”
What draws him to data are the endless possibilities, said Christman, who also loves a good quote. He said John Tukey, a mathematics pioneer who invented the term "bit" in 1947 got it right when he said, “The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.”
‘’Statistics, and now data science, allows me to be involved in research across a broad range of topics. I find this to be particularly helpful because it makes it so that I can figure out what exactly my research interests are, without being locked into a topic or method from the start.”
Another quote he’s encountered many times, author unknown, also holds to be true, he said: “Statistics is the grammar of science.”
“Increased familiarity and experience with statistics and data science will allow me to impact health care by providing me the tools to effectively identify potentially useful results and translate them to others.”
He also impacts change through volunteering, which has been important to him since high school. Since moving to Jackson, he has actively volunteered with the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities, where he makes and distributes supply/food bags and does data entry.
“I wish that I was able to dedicate more time to it,” said Christman. “It is important to me because I have received so much from each of the communities that I have lived in, that it would simply feel wrong to not dedicate my time back to them. There are always problems facing communities, and I just want to do what little I can to help address them.”
Christman has been a stand-out, engaged student since starting the program, said Dr. Victoria Gholar, SOPH assistant dean for student affairs.
“Brian represents UMMC well,” said Gholar. “He is a true interdisciplinary collaborator – which is the essence of population health.”