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Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Institute of Genetics and Cancer

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Where to find advice for statistical analyses: A conversation with Hannes Becher

Hannes Becher

Do you have different groups you want to compare, but don’t know how? Or are you wondering what sample sizes are needed to get reliable results? There is a man at the IGC who can help with power and your analyses: Hannes Becher is the statistician at the IGC’s Bioinformatics Analysis Core Team.

Hannes joined the IGC about a year ago. Before that, he worked on a variety of topics. He did his undergraduate in Biology and a Master’s degree in plant systematics in Halle an der Saale, Germany. During this time, he first started working with R as part of one of his courses and was inspired by a particularly engaging professor in Geobotany that sparked his initial interest. He subsequently secured EU funding for a research stay in London and went on to do a PhD at Queen Mary University in London, working on cytogenetics and population genomics of hybridising grasshoppers in the Alps. He then moved to Edinburgh to do a Postdoc at King’s Buildings, before taking the job as IGC statistician.

When asked what it is about statistics that especially motivates him, he replied: “We can ask interesting questions, and statistics helps us to get to an answer.” He added that he has always liked trying to answer questions with his computer, but also admitted that when he started studying Biology, he never thought that he would end up working as a statistician.

Hannes is the statistician in the Bioinformatics Analysis Core Team, where his main role is to help people with their research and advise on statistical analyses: “Usually people approach me with some problem and then ask: ‘How can we do that?’” In return for his support, Hannes gets the opportunity to take a peek into a lot of different people’s research across various areas of biology, which is what he most loves about his job.

Admittedly, statistics can be a subject that many of us tend to be a bit intimidated by, so when asked what his advice would be to encourage people to engage with it more, he answered: “I agree that statistics is an important subject for making results robust and reproducible. I think I would say find somebody you can talk to, and I hope that I am approachable for people. You often learn so much more when talking to somebody.”

While it is certainly useful for everybody to know basic techniques like t-tests and ANOVAs, Hannes also emphasized that there is a lot of knowledge to be found around the IGC and added: “This whole science business is meant to be a collaborative effort, there are so many colleagues and collaborators around you can talk to.”

When asked if he would have any advice for people who are looking to improve their practical statistics skills, Hannes enthusiastically said that it is certainly a good time to get into programming languages like R and Python. There are much more materials available online nowadays compared to 10 or 15 years ago. However, it can still be hard to navigate what is really reliable – so in the end, we are still lucky to have Hannes to ask for advice!


For information about the Bioinformatics Analysis Core, visit the Institute of Genetics and Cancer website


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