Alumnus Establishes Scholarship Fund to Help Future Statisticians

Chris Barker photo.

The pandemic has left its marks on so many facets of life, but for Chris Barker (PhD ’87), it opened his eyes as to why a program in biostatistics is extremely important for schools of public health.  After a long career as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry, Barker had planned to fully retire.  Then COVID-19 arrived and soon after that requests to work on clinical trials.

“The amount of misinformation and disinformation out in the media about the virus caused anxiety for people who didn’t fully understand the risks” Barker said.  “I already knew this, and the pandemic confirmed it: the role of a biostatistician to interpret data is incredibly important.”

Barker originally thought he would have a career as an economist because of his under- and graduate math- economics training.  He realized that economics was not the career path he wanted, but he would take what he learned and use it in his decades-long career as a clinical trial statistician. “I learned about a program in biostatistics in a school of public health from a friend and enrolled in the PhD program under Dr. Paul Levy,” he said.  Barker learned of an extraordinary opportunity that allowed him to take courses at UIC, Northwestern and University of Chicago through UIC’s travelling scholars program.  He credits Dr. Levy, the first Division Director of the Biostatistics Division, for inspiring his future philanthropy to the school.  “Dr. Levy helped secure scholarships for me, and a student job with the Primary Pulmonary Hypertension registry.  I always felt indebted to UIC for this support.”

Barker, an independent consultant and Adjunct Professor at UIC SPH, established an endowed scholarship during 2020-2021. He deliberately kept the criteria vague so that the scholarship could help the most students.  “In my career, I became known as the statistician for economists and clinical trial statisticians, because I understand both fields.  I want this scholarship to help students who otherwise might not be able to afford a degree in statistics,” he said.  Barker recognizes that statistics is always evolving and so he structured the scholarship to adapt to the needs of students.  “Everything you learn as a student in biostatistics, you will use in your day job.  Statisticians are always in high demand, always employed,” Barker said.  As a statistician, he said that he is frequently asked to review results on pharmaceutical projects and peer review medical and statistical journals.

Reminiscing about his time at UIC, Barker says colleagues like Drs. Sylvia Furner, Edwin Chen and Jack Goldberg and many others allowed him to be surrounded by people who understood and appreciated the work of a statistician. “I’m glad to fund this scholarship so that students can dedicate their time to obtaining their degree.  I want them to feel that they can get their degree and then contribute to the world.”