Sisters Erica and Zoe Moodie use biostatistics to improve the world of medicine

Sisters Erica and Zoe Moodie are changing the world with biostatistics.

The University of Winnipeg graduates — each with a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and statistics — said their passion for biostatistics stems from a love of math and medicine.

Both sisters credit UWinnipeg’s undergraduate years for allowing them to transition to grad school and ultimately end up with successful careers.

Zoe Moodie, supplied photo

“I felt I had a team of professors who really cared about my future and were so encouraging of my success,” said Zoe, who graduated in 1996. “The classes were taught at a high level and I had no trouble at all with the transition to grad school.”

Zoe also noted the small class sizes and accommodating professors really enhanced her overall experience.

Erica, a 2000 graduate, echoed her sister.

“It was a very nurturing environment. I got the sense the professors here really cared and they were really willing to devote time, energy, and grant resources into any student who was equally interested in the area, so I’m very lucky.”

Following their graduation from UWinnipeg, Zoe attended the University of Washington, earning a Master of Science and a PhD in biostatistics.

Erica traveled overseas to the University of Cambridge to obtain her Master of Philosophy in Epidemiology.

Then, following in her sister’s footsteps once again, she attended the University of Washington, also earning a Master of Science and a PhD in Biostatistics.

“I think it’s pretty cool, especially when we get to travel to the same conferences and give talks at each other’s institutions,” Zoe said of their mutual passion for biostatistics. “I’m very proud of my sister and all of her accomplishments.”

Erica Moodie ©UWinnipeg

“Biostatistics is not a very well-known area,” Erica added. “It’s neat to share this interest with my sister, though she is definitely the braver and more adventurous statistician.”

After the completion of her PhD, Zoe stayed in Seattle and joined the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where she’s now a senior staff scientist in the public health sciences and vaccine and infectious disease divisions.

Drawn to global health and infectious disease research, Zoe’s work focuses on the design and analysis of HIV vaccine trials, statistical methods for immunological assay data, and identifying correlates of risk and protection in HIV, dengue, and HPV vaccine trials. She also teaches biostatistics courses in HIV and tuberculosis overseas, bringing expertise to researchers and public health practitioners in countries such as Rwanda and South Africa.

“I liked the idea of working on something that could have a direct impact on public health. HIV is such a complex and difficult virus, and one that is still relevant and devastating despite the many significant gains in treatment,” Zoe said. “Without better prevention strategies, we are unlikely to eradicate HIV.”

Meanwhile, Erica landed her dream job at McGill University, where she’s been on faculty for the past 12 years as an assistant professor (2006 – 2012) and associate professor (2012 – current) of biostatistics.

In May 2018, she achieved a major professional milestone and was awarded the Principal’s Prize for Outstanding Emerging Researcher by McGill University for developing research on precision medicine in Canada.

More specifically, her work consisted of looking to optimize therapies for patients with depression, cancer, and diabetes by using statistical methods.

“I was honoured to be recognized by McGill and to see our field receive some attention,” Erica said. “Statistical analyses are at the heart of many academic disciplines, including medicine, biology, and forestry — but often it is seen as playing a supporting role, so it was nice to see statistics in the spotlight.”

Even though she graduated 18 years ago and lives across the country, Erica said UWinnipeg is still a second home to her and she loves returning to campus to visit professors and talk with students.

Zoe added UWinnipeg will always hold a special place in her heart.

“I am very grateful to the institution for all its support and for providing me with a strong undergraduate education.”

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