As a young man, Robert C. Elston didn’t have the means to follow his heart’s desire to buy a farm in England, so he pursued a fellowship in the United States instead. That twist of fate led him to become a leading biostatistician and epidemiologist rather than a terrific farmer.
As a researcher, Elston has served as a principal investigator on more than a dozen National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation grants with continuous support since 1965. His research and educational service has included a five-year stint as chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
And this year, Elston, the Amasa B. Ford, MD, Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, was nominated by his peers for the 2015 Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize.
Given to those who have made extraordinary contributions to their academic field and to Case Western Reserve, the award is considered one of the highest forms of recognition a faculty member can receive. Elston will receive the award during commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 17.
“My goal in working as a researcher and educator is to make sure I am asking and answering the right questions,” said Elston, also a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, and of genetics. “If your research is not focused on the right question, what’s the point? As a biostatistician-epidemiologist, you cannot contribute to this field unless you know what you are doing, why you are doing it and why what you are doing is important.”
Additionally, Elston has served as adviser to more than 50 graduate students and 45 postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have advanced to senior academic positions.
“I impress upon young people not to believe everything they read in the scientific literature,” Elston said. “They must find out for themselves. It has been a wonderful experience for me to explain what often goes undetected.”
Elston has contributed to the statistical genetics field by writing more than 600 articles and eight books, which have been cited by hundreds of fellow scholars. Additionally, he is in high demand as a speaker around the world.
National and international honors have come his way as well. For his statistics work, Elston received the Marvin Zelen Leadership Award for Statistical Science and has been elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association and of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics. For his genetics work, the American Society of Human Genetics presented him the Allan Award for his groundbreaking work on genetic linkage analysis and the Excellence in Human Genetics Education Award.
“I am honored and surprised to receive the Hovorka Prize,” Elston said. “It’s amazing to me that I would be considered in the class of somebody who should get this prize. I have served at Case Western Reserve longer than any other academic institution and have had more fun here than anywhere else.”