A Moment with Linda M. Collins is part of our interview series featuring thought leaders in research and healthcare. Each interview includes 7 short and stimulating questions. For more from Dr. Collins, find her on Twitter.

Linda M. Collins earned her B.A. in Psychology at the University of Connecticut and her Ph.D. in Quantitative Psychology at the University of Southern California. Her first faculty position was at the University of Southern California. Later she joined Penn State University, where she was Distinguished Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Director of The Methodology Center. As of September 2020 she is Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Biostatistics in the School of Global Public Health at New York University.

1. Tell us something we don’t know. (Anything!)

Well, this is nerdy, but: Factorial experiments require a lot fewer subjects than you probably think.

2. Which fiction book would you recommend to researchers and innovators in healthcare, and why?

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. It taught me that if you intend to help people, a good starting point is to ask them what they need, and then listen.

3. What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

Improving approaches for the kind of decision-making intervention scientists need to do when optimizing an intervention.

4. Who’s doing something that you admire in healthcare today, and why is it so cool?

My colleague Marya Gwadz conducts research in the HIV area with the most vulnerable populations. Her work is incredible because her approach is a perfect blend of deep compassion and hard-nosed empiricism.

5. What’s the biggest barrier to getting things done in your line of work?

The widespread investment in an outmoded research paradigm, and the reluctance to consider alternatives that are likely to be much more productive in the long run.

6. Imagine you win an award for impacting healthcare. What did you do?

Started a paradigm shift in intervention science.

7. What advice would you give innovators in healthcare?

There is an interplay between research questions and research methods. Of course, research questions must drive the choice of research methods, but it is also true that the emergence of new methods opens up possibilities and stimulates new questions. Therefore my advice is: Keep your methodological training up to date so that you are always aware of what the possibilities are.

 


About Linda Collins:

Linda M. Collins earned her B.A. in Psychology at the University of Connecticut and her Ph.D. in Quantitative Psychology at the University of Southern California. Her first faculty position was at the University of Southern California. Later she joined Penn State University, where she was Distinguished Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Director of The Methodology Center. As of September 2020 she is Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Biostatistics in the School of Global Public Health at New York University.

As a behavioral scientist and research methodologist, Linda has always been a proponent of behavioral and biobehavioral interventions as a way of improving health and educational outcomes and enhancing human well-being. At the same time, she has been frustrated by the slow pace of improvement in these interventions, and the deep disconnect between intervention science on the one hand and implementation and practice on the other. In 2004 a meeting set up by her friend and frequent collaborator Susan A. Murphy, a statistician who was then at the University of Michigan (currently at Harvard), changed her thinking about intervention science completely. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss with Vijay Nair, an eminent engineering statistician, whether principles from engineering research could be applied in intervention science to speed up progress in this field and help re-connect science and practice. The result was the first version of the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST), a framework for integrating basic engineering principles into intervention science.

The objective of MOST is to optimize interventions to improve not only intervention effectiveness, but also efficiency, economy, and scalability. Moreover, MOST can be used to help make tradeoffs among these where necessary. For example, if it is known that to be implemented in the intended setting an intervention can realistically cost no more than, say, $200 per participant, MOST can be used to engineer the best intervention that can be delivered within that budget limit.

For more than 15 years Linda has been working vigorously on advancing, expanding, and disseminating MOST. Interest in MOST is growing, and there have now been well over 100 studies applying the MOST framework in the US and abroad. Linda is currently collaborating on research applying MOST to develop optimized behavioral interventions in the areas of smoking cessation, prevention of excessive drinking and risky sex in college students, HIV services, and numerous other areas. Recently she has begun collaborating with a health economist to develop methods for optimizing interventions for cost-effectiveness, and to improve other aspects of MOST. She has given more than 150 presentations and workshops on MOST on five continents.

Written by: Aline Holzwarth