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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Benjamin Haley, Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences

Benjamin Haley

Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Downers Grove, Ill. I've lived in Chicago for some time.

What is your educational background?
I did my undergraduate degree in honors biology at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

What are your research interests?
Broadly, I want to use statistics to help people.

My thesis project is focused on the danger of radiation exposure. Radiation protection agencies estimate the risk of ionizing radiation exposure from studies of atomic bomb survivors. But atomic bomb survivors were exposed to one high-dose and high-dose rate exposure, while populations today are exposed to low-dose and low-dose rate exposures. The risk seen in atomic bomb survivorsis divided by the dose and dose-rate effectiveness factor (DDREF) to estimate the risk of exposures at lower doses and dose rates. I am revisiting this estimate of DDREF using historic animal studies.

I also volunteer with a lab at Stanford called PERTS. We work on social psychology interventions that help students perform better in school. Many kids hold the debilitating (and wrong-headed) attitude that intelligence is something you are born with. We create online exercises that help students understand that the brain is like a muscle: the more it is worked, the stronger it grows. We use randomized controlled trials to measure the efficacy of these exercises. Amazingly, (to me) they seem to work. Low achieving students in our experimental groups score 0.2 GPA points higher, on average, than corresponding control students. We recently launched a study at the Khan Academy. Students in this study finish two percent more exercises when they see our messages.

What attracted you to the Driskill Graduate Program?
I worked for my current PI, Gayle Woloschak, PhD, as a technician and she encouraged me to apply.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?
The best thing about Feinberg has been flexibility. In my rotations, I was able to work on a remote control robot that performs crystallography at Argonne, and to analyze electronic medical records from patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Now, I have a lot of freedom to determine my thesis project, study what I want, and spend my time in the way I see fit. It’s liberating and productive.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?
I've had some amazing experiences. Richard Miller, PhD, and Philip Hockberger, PhD, teach a great class called “Science and Society.” Each class is a roundtable discussion about the biggest achievements in science (relativity, the creation of the Royal Society, cloning, etc.) and how these have impacted society. It is one of my top five courses of all time.

What do you do in your free time?
I try to do lots, I suppose. I love taking online courses through coursera and udacity. My fiancé and I just started a course sponsored by Doris Buffet called 'learning by giving' where you study effective charitable giving. The class project is to give away $10,000. I'm an avid ice cream maker; saffron has been my favorite flavor so far. I love swimming, and I intend to swim to a ship wreck in Lake Michigan in a couple of weeks. I also enjoy attending the many music festivals Chicago has to offer.

What are your plans for after graduation?
It’s so hard to predict the future.  I like to focus on process.  I want to do stats each day, have lots of excuses to study new things, and do lots of walking.

Connect with Benjamin on LinkedIn.