Future of Public Health: Q&A with Patrick Ten Eyck, PhD Candidate at the University of Iowa

Apr 16, 2014, 2:14 PM


Future of Public Health is an ongoing series focused on the emerging faces in the world of public health. We spoke with Patrick Ten Eyck, MS, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health, about what helped lead him to the field, his work in biostatistics to determine the impact of anti-bullying policies and where he hopes to go from here.

NewPublicHealth: What encouraged you to pursue a degree and career in public health?

Patrick Ten Eyck: I received my undergraduate degree in math because it’s been an interest of mine and then I got my Master’s in statistics because I found it to be the most interesting. I wasn’t really interested so much in the theory of statistics as much as the application. So, when I decided to pursue my PhD I thought biostatistics would be the perfect route because it applied my knowledge of statistics to really practical applications in the real world, especially public health. It’s convenient that the Biostatistics Department is in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. I have the opportunity to collaborate with other departments and help share our knowledge of statistics. Together, we can make sense of large data sets and hopefully get some very useful results out of it.

NPH: Do you have primary interests on the public health side of biostatistics?

Ten Eyck: Actually, when I started at the program I really didn’t have any particular area that I was that interested in researching. Obviously, one of the big areas that the Biostatistics Department pursues is medical data, but we also work with more broad areas than just medical data. We help out with occupational, environmental, community and behavioral health topics, too. These topics opened many more doors as far as piquing my interest in different areas. So, I still don’t have a particular area that I’m focused on, but I like to get involved in a lot of different areas because it’s really interesting to see what’s going on in the different fields.

NPH: Tell us more about the work you’ve done to analyze the bullying data in the Iowa Youth Survey?

Ten Eyck: Obviously, bullying has been quite a large focus, especially in the media lately with many stories of students being bullied in schools. So, the Iowa Youth Survey looks at data from 2005, 2008 and 2010 and now we just got the data set for 2012. There was an anti-bullying law passed in 2007 in the state of Iowa that outlines what bullying is and helps teachers to recognize bullying and intervene to prevent it as best as possible. A survey was given to sixth-, eighth- and eleventh-grade students throughout the state of Iowa and more than 250,000 students filled out the survey and gave information.

The survey covers an array of topics, but we focused on the portion that dealt specifically with bullying. We wanted to see how the reported trends of bullying were affected by the anti-bullying law that was passed in 2005. We focused on four different types of bullying variables: psychological, verbal, physical and cyber bullying, and then built a few models. We noticed a jump between 2005 and 2008 and we attribute that to the passing of the law and making students and teachers more aware of what bullying exactly is and how to identify it. Then, from 2008 to 2010, we noticed that three of the four major types of bullying actually decreased. Our hope is that we can credit the intervention of the law for the decrease. The only type of bullying that increased by a very tiny amount was cyber bullying, and that might be harder to patrol inside school because cyber bullying on social networks is harder for teachers to catch and try to intervene with a student.

I’m hoping to see a decrease in bullying in the data for the 2012 survey due to the efforts of teachers and school administrators in curbing bullying throughout the Iowa schools. We’re hoping that there will be a continued effort in reducing bullying, not just in Iowa schools but everywhere across the country. Bullying has definitely been a very large focus for the entire state of Iowa and it has gotten a lot of support, even from the governor who’s talked very passionately about trying to reduce bullying. By reducing bullying, students can go to school and feel like it’s a safe place rather than worry about if someone’s going to pick on them.

We’ve found that teacher intervention can decrease bullying by 35 to 45 percent over the four types of bullying as a teacher becomes more engaged with their students and more involved in intervening. Our big takeaway is that teacher intervention absolutely is crucial. It may be a common sense conclusion, but the numbers really do show that the intervention has been very important. I hope that the 2012 survey would show an increase in intervention because it absolutely is crucial and beneficial to curbing bullying.

NPH: What has the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant allowed you to explore in this analysis?

Ten Eyck: The foundation has given me the opportunity to work on this analysis very extensively. I’m very happy with how far this has come and I’m excited to continue looking into this as more and more data comes in. It will be interesting to attach the new data and look at it from different angles. A new survey has been given to the principals of the schools asking them how well has their schools implemented the anti-bullying policies and if they see a decrease in reported incidents. In addition to the 2012 Iowa Youth Survey data, that’s another study that I’m going to be working on very soon. We’ve really maxed out a lot of the information that we’ve seen from the first three years, so it will be very interesting to see how these new bits of information add into the bigger picture.

NPH: Do you have plans to present this new data again?

Ten Eyck: Oh, absolutely. I think this is probably going to be a project that I will continue working on, at least for my duration at the university while I’m finishing up my degree.

NPH: What’s been the most surprising lesson that you’ve learned that you’ll take with you as you move throughout your career?

Ten Eyck: The most interesting thing that I’ve picked up with the bullying data is trying to figure out the exact story of what is going when you’re looking at the data. A lot of times we’ll see something that’s a bit of an anomaly and we must dig deeper to figure out exactly what’s going on and why, rather than just attributing it to randomness or anything else. If we see a pattern that we didn’t expect, we need to look at it from a different angle and look at new variables that could be potentially related to what we’re analyzing and try to piece the picture together. This allows us to gain a strong degree of accuracy when we formulate our results and present this information.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.