Claudia Rivera Rodriguez: Drawn back to Auckland

26 September 2017

Dr Claudia Rivera Rodriguez
Dr Claudia Rivera Rodriguez

After completing her PhD in the Department of Statistics, Claudia Rivera Rodriguez got a post-doctoral role at the hallowed Harvard University in the United States, working with medical and public health researchers.

But when she was offered a lecturing job back here this year, there was no contest. “People here are amazing,” says Claudia, who is originally from Colombia. “There is not much bureaucracy, therefore there is more time to be productive. The independence in research is totally one of the main reasons I came back.”

Claudia’s research interests fall into an area where the Department of Statistics has traditionally been very strong: Designing and analysing studies based on samples from existing databases. With the rise of large-scale data science, this sort of sampling is becoming increasingly important.

Claudia pursued her undergraduate degree in statistics at the National University of Colombia from 2008 to 2012. She then started a masters in mathematics in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil. But three months in, she was accepted for a PhD in the Department of Statistics. Her topic was two-phase sampling designs with applications to biostatistics, and her supervisor was Professor Thomas Lumley. But Claudia didn’t acquire just her doctorate here – she met her partner, Alan Lucas, an earth scientist.

While in the US, Claudia worked on improving models for disease outcomes with four applications: A study of HIV in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, and also in Malawi; and immunisation studies in Honduras and Brazil. She is continuing this work in New Zealand as well as teaching STATS 125, a first-year course that shows students how to use probability in solving real-world problems.

Asked to compare the academic statistics worlds here and in Colombia, Claudia says the question is hard to answer. “I think statistics in Colombia is driven by the interest in investigating socio-economic equity. I feel the interests in the New Zealand stats community have more to do with the investigation of health issues.” 

Away from work, Claudia is a keen painter in acrylics and watercolours – anything from portraits of people to images from popular culture (think Angry Cat) and landscapes. “I like giving my painting away,” she says. “One thing that I really enjoy is when people ask me to paint something for them.” You might also see her running – “my weekly goal is usually 64 to 80km, and Auckland is an amazing place to run, particularly the waterfront and Tamaki drive.”