Olawale Ayilara

Olawale Ayilara


Olawale Ayilara is a 2nd-year PhD student from the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba who is also enrolled in the Visual and Automated Disease Analytics (VADA) graduate training program – a joint initiative of the Universities of Manitoba and Victoria. As part of the VADA Program, Olawale did a four-week internship with CNODES during the summer 2018, working with Dr. Robert Platt in Montreal. The research team also included Dr. Dan Chateau from Manitoba and Matt Dahl, an analyst at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP). Olawale kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his internship with CNODES and his experience as a student in the VADA Program.

Trainee Profile

PhD Student from 2017 to Present
My passion is to do research that has clinical and real-world relevance. Currently, I’m still developing methods, but I’m applying methodology where it’s most needed... I am excited by this. It’s my medium for reaching out to the world.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up studying in this field.

My academic background is in mathematics and statistics. In 2012, I graduated top of my class at Department of Mathematics, University of Lagos, Nigeria. After graduation, I served in the National Youth Service in Nigeria for a year, and while in the Service I decided to apply to universities abroad to do a master’s degree. My original goal was to study in the United States, but the English prerequisite course was cancelled in my country at that time, so I began looking at universities in Canada for researchers working in my area of interest. That is how I found the Department of Statistics at University of Manitoba, where I completed my Master’s degree in 2016. My first year in Manitoba was tough because of the not-very-friendly weather! But over time I’ve learned how to dress for this climate. It’s good now.

Towards the end of my master’s program I was tired of examining statistical inferences and knew I had to put the knowledge acquired in statistics into practice in the health sector by addressing problems that have real-world relevance. Even if the methodological piece is good, research needs to have clinical relevance. That is what led me to biostatistics. I contacted Dr. Lisa Lix to discuss my research interests and see if she would supervise me for a PhD. Lo and behold, I am currently in the second year of my PhD  program (with a specialization in biostatistics) under the supervision of Dr. Lix at the Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba.

Can you give us a short summary of the research you were working on with CNODES?

I recently completed an internship with CNODES at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. Under the supervision of Dr. Robert Platt, I helped develop a training module that would introduce or guide new analysts in cohort selection and identification of cases using the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) 2008-2010 Data Entrepreneurs’ Synthetic Public Use File (DE-SynPUF). The aim was to select cohorts for a study on the risk of acute kidney injury in statin users. I also worked on a second project, currently at the validation stage, using the Observational Medical Dataset Simulator II (OSIM2), and its modified version, to generate a realistic simulated claims dataset from the Manitoba Population Research Data Repository at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. We completed the first project during my four weeks in Montreal, and hope to wrap up the second project before the end of this year. Both studies align well with the goals of the VADA Program, which trains graduate students how to develop and use automated techniques and tools to collect, analyze, and visualize complex data related to chronic and infectious diseases.

Tell us more about your experience during this internship, and about the VADA program.

Working with CNODES gave me the opportunity to improve my computational skills, and I learned a lot about cohort selection and case identification for drug effect studies. It was just four weeks, so we didn’t go into developing methodology, but I sharpened my software skills, developed my professional networking skills, and gained useful experience working with complex datasets. It was great to have had the opportunity to do the internship with CNODES. Without it I might not have acquired the skills I now have.

As part of the VADA Program we had a summer school, including a group project where I had to work with people from genetics and psychology. I struggled to explain my research to them because I was using so much statistical jargon. I found that I was not making sense to people outside the statistics discipline and I had to find a way so that everyone in our group project could be on the same page. For me, I’m constantly working hard to convey my messages clearly to non-technical audiences. In the VADA Program, we are also learning about data visualization. It’s a very cool way to be able to see what is going on with the data even without doing any rigorous analysis. And it is so useful for people outside academia like clinicians and policy makers.

What excites you the most about the research you are doing or hope to do in the future?

My passion is to do research that has clinical and real-world relevance. Currently, I’m still developing methods, but I’m applying methodology where it’s most needed. I’m excited about everything from the conception of the idea to publication. It is interesting to see how I can use data to understand different concepts. For instance, I am currently working on a project that involves patient-reported outcomes and “response shift” detection in patients that have undergone knee arthroplasty. Response shift simply means a change in one’s self-evaluation of health status or quality of life as a result of exposure to a medical procedure or event. In my research, I need to use available data to describe response shift in a way that makes sense for clinicians and policy makers. I am excited by this. It’s my medium for reaching out to the world.

How has CNODES impacted your studies or career trajectory?

I hope to complete my PhD in 2020 or 2021. My primary career goals are to conduct innovative biostatistical research and train students in biostatistical methods. Before the summer internship with CNODES, my goal had always been that after my PhD program I would look for a postdoc position, or if it were offered an assistant professor position directly – wow, that would be nice! When I was in Montreal last summer, I saw a lot of good statisticians and epidemiologists who didn’t have faculty positions with a university per se, but they are research scientists with CNODES and they are still doing active research. That’s what I want to do – active research – and not necessarily as an academic at a university. I got the idea that after my PhD program I could apply to be a research scientist at a research institute or network like CNODES.

Outside of work and studies, what are you passionate about?

I play soccer occasionally and, if I do say so myself, I’m very good at board games like Scrabble, Monopoly and a bit of chess.

What’s next for your research?

Our results for the OSIM2 project will be written up soon, and I can tell you that so far the method is working well. I should be presenting this work at the next semi-annual CNODES meeting.