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First Person Faculty
Karl Broman, Associate Professor, Biostatistics

Whether it’s practicing ballet moves or finding elusive genes, Karl Broman takes the analytical approach.

I’ll probably be dancing as long as I can stand. I started when I was 8. At the High School of the Arts in Milwaukee, I was dancing three hours a day, six days a week, plus getting up at six in the morning to lift weights. Nights and weekends I danced classical ballet at a local studio. And I performed with a modern company.

But I’m a bit too short for classical ballet; I’m five-seven. Most ballet companies look for men to be five-ten. So I went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That way I could keep dancing with the same groups. It helped pay my way through college.

A lot of people have asked me whether there’s any connection between the science and my dancing. I don’t know. Part of what I like about dancing is that it’s so different from science. But my approach to it is very much analytical. I really enjoy the physics of it, figuring out how to perfect a movement.

I lucked out in life. I never really set out to do statistics, much less biostatistics. But one thing  happened after another. For me, biostatistics is the most interesting and exciting part of science. It’s that last bit, after you get all the data, when you have to figure out how to answer the question you’re trying to address and you have to sort out how you understand the uncertainty in your answer.

The bulk of what I do now is gene-finding, trying to find the specific genomic regions that influence things like why certain infections kill some mice while others get sick and then get better. And I’m dancing three nights a week now, with the Baltimore Ballet. I’m just not as interesting a person without it—to others and to myself.