Programme Leader in Biostatistics Research at the MRC Biostatistics Unit (BSU), Professor Sheila Bird OBE FRSE, has spent the past 35 years applying her statistical skills to a range of areas that have direct public health policy implications, from transplantation to prisoners’ mortality. As she retires from the MRC, she tells us about some of her research highlights, why she chose a career in biostatistics and provides words of wisdom for future biostatisticians.
Career in brief
- Part-time PhD while lecturer in statistics at Aberdeen University
- Joined the MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge in 1980
- Made an MRC programme leader in 1996
- Made an OBE in 2011
Major Greenwood (Image credit: MRC Biostatistics Unit)
The introduction of measurement into medicine established the foundations of the modern discipline of biostatistics, crucial to all aspects of medicine, epidemiology and public health. But how did statistics become so embedded? Isabel Baker looks back at Professor Major Greenwood, an eminent statistician of the 20th century, who developed and encouraged some of the first uses of modern statistical methods in medical science.
This 1920s photo of Major Greenwood ― whose forename was Major, rather than reflecting military rank ― pictures him smiling cheerily on a wooden bench. But it gives little away about the nature of this distinguished and imposing man who dedicated his life’s work to statistics.
“There can be no doubt that to many people he was rather formidable,” reads a tribute to Greenwood in the London Hospital Gazette’s obituary. “But those who knew him best realised that he was just as critical of himself as of others, and that much of his ungenial manner was really due to shyness.” 
Greenwood started his career by following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both well-respected doctors. But in 1904, while working part-time as a GP, he attended a course on statistics at University College and found a new interest. Read more