With the Researcher Spotlight, the Microbial Systems Initiative aims to introduce you to the breadth and diversity of research interests and potential growth opportunities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. We hope that by highlighting both the researchers and their research, we can help you to learn more about and connect with your colleagues to enhance multidisciplinary research and education in microbial sciences here at Illinois.
Shulei Wang, PhD
Department of Statistics
Dr. Wang is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics and was a part of the MSI cluster hire in 2020. He received his PhD in Statistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018 and spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interest is in developing novel statistical methodology and scalable computational tools to analyze large-scale and complex biomedical data, with a goal of providing insight into complex biological systems. Dr. Wang’s past research primarily strived to apply rigorous statistical thinking to developing methods to solve problems arising from the analysis of the human microbiome and microscopic imaging data. At Illinois, he plans to continue developing statistical methods that are able to incorporate evolution information of microbial systems.
Do you have a personal story to share or path that led to your interest in this area of study?
After completing my undergraduate study in math, I choose statistics as my area of study for my PhD because solving a real problem is very cool. Thanks to my PhD advisor, I was introduced to the microscopy imaging field in my graduate studies and began my research journey in developing new computational tools for colocalization and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy by adopting statistical thinking. After receiving my PhD, I switched to the microbiome area and proposed new statistical methods to decipher the interaction between host and microbial communities. I now focus on developing statistical methods for imaging and microbiome applications and enjoy inventing new quantitative tools to address scientific questions.
How does being part of the University of Illinois and/or the Champaign-Urbana community impact your research?
I like the culture of interdisciplinary research around campus because I have opportunities to work with researchers from different fields. I now work with researchers within the Department of Statistics and from the College of Veterinary Medicine. All these great collaboration opportunities have a made huge impact on my own research and have helped me to explore new research directions.
How will your work help to improve society or reach people?
The goal of my research is to develop new statistical methods and computational tools for data-driven scientific discovery and medical decision making, which will ultimately advance science and improve health.
Do you want to tell us about any projects or activities that you are particularly excited about right now?
Statistical analysis for microbiome data is a key step in deciphering the effect of the human microbiome on the outcomes of health and disease and identifying the dysbiotic microbe components. However, analysis of human microbiome data poses great challenges, due to the unique characteristics of the data, including excessive zero counts, high-dimensional compositional data, and a phylogenetic tree structure among the variables. To overcome these challenges, I am developing a series of new analytic tools with theoretical guarantees for microbiome data analysis.