Jan. 29, 2020

Dr. Alberto Nettel-Aguirre

Taking the fear of statistics out of the equation

For Dr. Alberto Nettel-Aguirre, MSc’99, PhD’05, two great things came out of calculus class. It led to a career he’s thankful for and it’s where he met his wife, Luz, who he has been married to for 22 years.

Originally from Mexico City, Alberto moved to Canada in 1997. Having never been to Calgary before, he followed the advice of a professor and pursued both a master’s and doctoral degree in math and statistics at the University of Calgary.

“After my undergrad, I worked for three years for ACNielsen in their retail index and home audience measurement departments,” says Alberto. “While there’s nothing wrong with helping Coca-Cola make more millions, I didn’t want it to be my legacy.”

In 2005, Alberto completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Acadia University before returning to UCalgary’s medical school as a research associate in the departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences. In 2007, he received his professional statistician (P.Stat.) designation from the Statistical Society of Canada and was offered an assistant professor position.

“I’ve always been interested in health and want to make a positive difference, so biostatistics is a great fit,” says Alberto. “I learn something new every day — it’s incredibly interesting and rewarding.”

Alberto, who’s also a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre, works with researchers throughout the Cumming School of Medicine to help them understand their data, what they can and can’t do with it, improve efficiency and scientific rigour, and solve problems. Alberto has dedicated much of his career to the correct application of biostatistics and collaborative research. He’s currently looking into possible diagnostics for missing data patterns.

In November 2019, the Department of Paediatrics’ Global Child Health Unit presented Alberto with the 2019 Global Child Health Award. This award recognizes Alberto for his outstanding efforts in advancing maternal, newborn and child health projects in Tanzania and Uganda. His insights have helped the unit improve the quality of research, better analyze information to determine ongoing program development and planning, and implement policy changes.

“Math and statistics is something everyone can understand, but fear gets in the way,” says Alberto. “I’m here to take that fear away and make the science intuitive. Receiving this award is such an honour because it means what I’m doing for the Global Child Health Unit is working. They see the benefit.”

In his spare time, Alberto enjoys music — and plays the bandurria, Spanish lute, mandolin and tambourine — dancing, singing, hiking, camping and travelling. He also loves to cook, especially for Luz.

“She hasn’t stopped eating yet so I must be doing something right,” says Alberto with a laugh. “I like to make complex dishes and invite all of our friends to join us. But don’t ask me to follow a recipe. It’s better to inject flavour as you go, just like I try to instill a good taste for well-done statistics.”