Alexis Alvarez knows that when it comes to helping people with psychological problems, talking will only get you so far. To really unlock the mysteries of mental illness, you need data to guide the way. It's a lesson she has learned as a research assistant in clinical psychology at UC San Diego Health.
“I collect tons of data every day,” she said. “I want to be able to take all that information and analyze it in order to help people.”
To accomplish that goal, Alvarez is pursuing a certificate in biostatistics from UC San Diego Extension.
Biostatistics, a growing field, especially in biotech-heavy San Diego, uses statistical and mathematical methods to analyze biological data and is used in a number of industries from medicine to agriculture to environmental sciences. According to the American Statistical Association, research topics can include the testing of new drugs, evaluating psychiatric symptoms, and exploring the causes of cancer and heart disease.
Alvarez is able to work toward a certificate in biostatistics with the help of UC San Diego Extension's "Change the World" Alumni Scholarship. The quarterly scholarship provides financial assistance of up to $5,500 to pursue a continuing education certificate or special study program and is open to any University of California alumni.
Alvarez, who earned her bachelor of science in psychology from UC San Diego in 2013, hopes to use the biostatistics certificate to bolster her upcoming application for Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology.
“It’s super competitive to get into those programs so I’m hoping that being well versed in biostatistics will help me stand out,” she said. “This biostatistics certificate was an obvious résumé booster.”
Alvarez, a native San Diegan who lives in Banker’s Hill, also hopes it will help her in her current role as a research assistant by strengthening her ability to collect and analyze data to better serve mentally ill patients.
“The end goal of anyone in research is to come up with ideas that can be put into an experiment that produces conclusive data and then use that data to help with everything from early diagnosis to improving everyday functions,” she said.
Ed Abeyta, assistant dean for community engagement at UC San Diego Extension, said the "Change the World" Alumni Scholarship is designed to help University of California graduates further their careers by providing them with practical training for in-demand jobs.
“UC San Diego Extension is founded on the notion that lifelong learning is important not only for an individual’s own career and personal advancement but also for the impact it has on our region and our world,” Abeyta said. “With her commitment to gaining the skills she needs to truly help the mentally ill, Alexis is a perfect example of how UC San Diego Extension can improve the lives of the students it serves as well as the larger community.”
Alvarez initially was drawn to psychology because she enjoyed talking to patients who were struggling with a host of issues including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and a variety of addictions.
“I was sitting down and talking to them and getting the full exposure of the patients and their lives,” she remembers. “It can be like a forgotten world. People don’t understand the severity of these illnesses.”
Alvarez hopes that by attaining her certificate in biostatistics that she will be able to harness the power of data to find ways to alleviate suffering.
"With today's computing power, we have the ability to understand biological functions better than ever before. I hope to use the skills I gain in this program to translate what I learn into information that people can understand and use."
The “Change the World” Alumni Scholarships are awarded each academic quarter. Applications for the upcoming quarter must be received by Aug. 15. The UC San Diego Extension Scholarship Committee reviews applications four times a year but reserves the right to not award a scholarship.
The qualifying requirements for the scholarship can range from cultural enrichment to regional economic development. Extension seeks to reward alumni who demonstrate the promise and potential to improve the quality of life in the San Diego region and beyond.