Dirk Douwes-Schultz is a CANSSI Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow for 2024–2026.

Post-Graduate Stories

Dirk Douwes-Schultz Will Tackle “Behavioural Change Mechanisms in Complex Epidemic Models”

As a 2024 CANSSI Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow, Dirk Douwes-Schultz will take part in a comprehensive program that involves teaching, interdisciplinary or applied collaboration, professional development, and a research project focusing on the development of novel Bayesian epidemic models that allow for changes in infectivity due to dynamic behavioural change in affected populations. He will work under the supervision of Professor Rob Deardon (University of Calgary) and Professor Alexandra Schmidt (McGill University).

Program: CANSSI Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship

Project Focus Areas

In infectious disease epidemics, the affected population often reacts to outbreak severity, changing the transmission dynamics over time. In this project, Dirk will work as part of a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary team to develop novel Bayesian epidemic models that allow for changes in infectivity due to dynamic behavioural change (BC) in the population. The focus of the project will be around (i) developing novel, complex BC mechanisms (e.g., lockdown fatigue) for inclusion in epidemic models, and (ii) incorporating BC mechanisms into more complex epidemic models (e.g., spatial or age-structured models). Models will be developed using simulated data and then applied to various diseases of humans and animals including COVID-19, influenza, Ebola and foot-and-mouth disease.

Dirk’s activities will also incorporate an interdisciplinary experience involving interactions at the Foothills medical and veterinary campus and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics of the University of Calgary (UC) and at Alberta Health Services, plus the opportunity to teach one undergraduate course per year and to co-teach higher-level courses and mentor one or more graduate students. He will also enroll in the UC Taylor Institute of Learning Postdoctoral Scholarship Certificate program, which provides guidance on topics such as teaching methods, course design, and creating teaching dossiers and philosophy statements.

Alexandra Schmidt - Rob Deardon
Dirk Douwes-Schultz’s supervisors: Alexandra Schmidt and Rob Deardon.

Getting to Know Dirk

Dirk Douwes-Schultz is completing a PhD in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University under the supervision of Alexandra Schmidt and has helped develop projections of hospital demand for the Quebec government as part of the McGill COVID-19 modelling team headed by Mathieu Maheu-Giroux.

Previously, he worked for two years at the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation at the University of Washington as part of the HIV team that produced estimates of HIV prevalence, incidence and mortality for 195 countries and some subnational units.

Dirk states that one of his major aspirations is to continue his current research. He notes that the research project that forms the basis of his CDPF work uses the same class of models (coupled Markov switching models) used in his doctoral dissertation, although applied to very different problems involving individual-level data rather than population-level data.

He also sees broader benefits in the comprehensive nature of the CDPF program.

“If I do decide on an academic career, the postdoc will give me important experience, as I do not believe I am yet ready for an assistant professor position,” he says. “I am also thinking about working for the government as my thesis research concerns infectious disease surveillance. In that case, further experience in infectious disease modelling, with leading experts in this area such as Professors Deardon and Schmidt, will be very valuable.”

The first paper from Dirk’s thesis was published recently in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series C, and the second is in revision at the Annals of Applied Statistics.

The inferential techniques needed to fit coupled hidden Markov models have only arisen in the last few years and, therefore, I am likely one of the few researchers who has experience in this area.

About the Supervisors

Rob Deardon

Rob Deardon is a Professor of Biostatistics with a joint position in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Calgary. Much of his recent work has been in the area of infectious disease modelling, especially in the area of individual-level models and epidemic models that account for population behavioural change. He also works in Bayesian and computational statistics, statistical learning, experimental design, disease surveillance methods and spatio-temporal modelling. He has published 80+ papers in peer-reviewed journals. He has trained over 80 graduate and postgraduate trainees, and currently has a research group consisting of 13 trainees. He has served as associate editor of a number of journals including Biometrics, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Series C) and the Canadian Journal of Statistics. He is currently the Graduate Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Biostatistics Graduate Program at Calgary, and has recently served a two-year term as the Chair of the Statistics Section of the Canadian NSERC Discovery Grants Math/Stats Evaluation Group.

Alexandra Schmidt

Alexandra M. Schmidt is Professor of Biostatistics and holds the endowed University Chair in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health (EBOH) at McGill University. Between 2002 and 2016 she worked in the Department of Statistical Methods of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she became Full Professor of Statistics in 2012.

She is an Elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association (2020) and an Elected Member of the International Statistical Institute (2010). She was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Medal (2017) from the American Statistical Association’s Section on Statistics and the Environment and the Abdel El-Shaarawi Young Investigator Award (2008) from the International Environmetrics Society. She was the 2015 President of the International Society for Bayesian Analysis.

She is a member of the Environmental Epidemiology Research Group of EBOH, of the Quantitative Life Sciences Program (QLS), and Associate Member of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at McGill. Her main areas of research are on the modelling of complex spatial and spatio-temporal processes under the Bayesian framework.

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