Alena Maze, a mother of seven, has become the first Black person in the world to hold a Ph.D. in Survey Methodology, a field which studies the math behind polls. The survey statistician, who earned her degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, pursued the field because of her love for math and health, as well as her desire to bring true inclusivity in research, Because Of Them We Can reported.
"I successfully passed my PhD dissertation defense! I’m the first African American person in history to receive a PhD in the field of Survey Methodology," she wrote on Instagram "Not just in the USA, but in the entire world. That also means I’m currently the only Black person to hold a PhD in this degree."
Explaining the purpose of her field, Maze used an example of a research which seeks to find more information on how diabetes affects women ages 30-40.
"Well in a perfect world, we would like to send out a survey (i.e., a series of questions) to all women ages 30-40 with diabetes," the 35-year-old scholar wrote. "However, this is not practical for many reasons. So instead we chose a smaller group (called a sample), say 2,000 women from that same population to represent the whole population of 30-40 year old women with diabetes."
Maze is especially focused on creating more representation in surveys which predominantly focus on white people. She said there are two major ways the goal can be achieved.
The first, she said, is to "create a good sample that is representative of the whole population."
"A lot of this math problem is finding enough race/eth and socioeconomic diversity in non White participants (Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, etc) that will participate in the survey. Believe it or not it's a big math problem," Maze wrote.
The second method, according to the researcher, is "to make estimates from that smaller group of 2,000 women that gives good estimates to the questions of the survey ( e.g., the proportion of women who exercise 3 times a week ) that are close to the estimate we would get is we had answers to the survey from everyone."