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Dr Nicole White


QUT graduate and Senior Research Fellow Dr Nicole White uses her background in maths and statistics to find meaning in healthcare data

Nicole preferred the humanities over maths in high school. “I enjoyed maths, but I didn’t see how the problems we were solving could be applied to the world outside of the classroom,” she says. “It felt like your career choices from studying mathematics were limited to being a teacher, an engineer or an accountant.”

Now, as a statistician who analyses medical data to help improve patient care, she’s keen to dispel some of the misconceptions about what a career in maths looks like. One of the projects that Nicole’s currently working on involves analysing the records of over 16,000 critically ill COVID-19 patients from 55 countries around the world to help doctors understand the best way to treat and manage the virus.

To process such vast numbers, Nicole draws not just on her maths and statistics skills, but also coding, communication and creativity.

“I call data a beautiful mess and statistics helps us find meaning,” she says. “My job is to distil that beautiful mess down into a clear message that doctors can use to better treat patients. The biggest challenge for me is the art of communication.”

Nicole’s own ‘aha’ moment about maths came during her first year of uni when she learnt about the role of data in the development of the polio vaccine.

“I started to see this whole new world of maths and how it could be combined with data to solve meaningful problems,” she says.

Nicole switched to a Bachelor of Mathematics at QUT, which she says was “very applied and problem-solving focused”, and went on to do her honours year in applied science and a PhD in statistics. Today, far from having a stereotypical maths job, she works across a range of projects in different places, using statistics and clinical expertise to find ways to improve our healthcare system.

Her advice? Stay open-minded about the diversity of career paths out there, and talk to those already working in the field! – Amelia Caddy

Nicole’s pathway

  • Bachelor of Mathematics, QUT
  • PhD in Statistics, QUT
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (Honours), QUT
  • Research associate / lecturer, QUT Senior Research Fellow, QUT

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Maths & Data 2022 in partnership with QUT.


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