What careers are open to a person who loves math and helping animals? While these may seem worlds apart, Ellen Lentz found the perfect intersection for these two passions.

While earning her degree in Animal Science at National Taiwan University, Lenz chose to focus on the field of quantitative genetics, an area of research that looks at the way genes are inherited from the previous generations. As animals (including humans) inherit traits and then pass them onto the next generation, scientists can measure how the traits vary over time.

While taking statistics courses to satisfy her credits, Lentz found herself fascinated by the experimental statistics that drove modern agriculture development, and the statistical theories first developed by animal and crop geneticists. From there, a new passion developed.

After graduate school, Lentz used her statistics skills to help develop veterinarian medicine for farm animals and pets. In order to develop new and better drugs to treat illnesses, scientists have to perform tests on animals. Unfortunately, the results are rarely clear in their effectiveness or safety. As a statistician, Lentz has to ask, “how do we know these results are not purely due to chance?”

Lentz worked with clinicians to help conduct drug experiments which calculated the number of subjects needed in each drug trial so that the results provide a conclusive answer on the effectiveness of the drug.

After working with animals, Lentz went on to use her biostatistical expertise to help develop human medicines. She is now Associate Director Biostatistics at Genentech, a biotechnology company in the San Francisco Bay Area that develops and manufactures medicines to treat people with serious medical conditions.

After a long career in biostatistics, Lentz’s advice to students who are considering their future is this: “Your career should be something you do and have so much fun doing that sometimes you feel a little guilty about taking the money.”