Statistical Sciences’ Elena Tuzhilina awarded 2022 Dorothy Shoichet Women Faculty in Science Awards of Excellence

January 17, 2023 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

From Arts & Science News

Elena Tuzhilina, an assistant professor in the Department of Statistical Sciences, is the 2022 winner of the Dorothy Shoichet Women Faculty in Science Awards of Excellence.  

Tuzhilina’s research focuses on multivariate statistics, dimension reduction and statistical modelling. These forms of statistical analysis are used in the study of complex phenomena in such diverse disciplines as computational biology, genetics, neuroscience and epidemiology.  

The award was established in 2016 by Molly Shoichet, a University Professor in U of T’s Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, in honour of her late mother. The award helps early-career female researchers in the physical or life sciences, computer sciences or mathematics within the Faculty of Arts & Science focus on their research. 

“I am very honoured to receive the Dorothy Shoichet Award and incredibly grateful to my department for nominating me,” says Tuzhilina. “As I work in the field of applied statistics, and my research goal is to advance statistical methodology for analyzing complex phenomena in biology and medicine, I strongly rely on collaborations. The award will provide me with a priceless opportunity to focus on my studies and build a new interdisciplinary team.  

“Furthermore, as I graduated from my PhD program at Stanford in June 2022 and directly entered the assistant professor position at U of T, I do not have the advantage of postdoctoral experience. The award will provide me with sufficient time to realize my research potential and establish my research network.” 

"Professor Tuzhilina is a rising star in the fields of applied statistics and machine learning, and we fully expect her to build on her considerable accomplishments to date,” says Michael Evans, chair of statistical sciences. “In particular, the award will advance her research into chromatin conformation reconstruction and other applications by supporting her as she forms a diverse and interdisciplinary research group of specialists from statistics, mathematics, bioinformatics and computational biology. I'm excited to congratulate her on this honour." 

Tuzhilina joined U of T in July 2022. She began her undergraduate studies at the age of 15, received her specialist’s degree from Moscow State University and her PhD in statistics from Stanford University. She has worked at the computational linguistics company SmartCAT, and on the Microsoft Data Science team. 

“One of the most important recent advances in genome biology is the realization that the complex three-dimensional structure of chromatin has a key role in regulating many molecular processes of the cell,” says Vince Tropepe, vice-dean of research & infrastructure.  

“Professor Tuzhilina’s innovative research using statistical and computational approaches is very exciting and will undoubtedly lead to important new insight into this fundamental relationship between higher order structure and cellular function in health and disease.” 

Tuzhilina’s many recent research projects include studying the structure of DNA and protein in chromosomes. This structure, or conformation, plays a critical role in many vital cellular processes including transcription, replication, and DNA repair. She is also exploring different aspects of emotional disorders and their influence on the human brain and modeling the COVID-19 pandemic trajectory.