Biostatistician and Neuroscientist Rochelle Tractenberg’s August in Australia

EMBL-ABR and Melbourne Bioinformatics is pleased to announced that Prof Rochelle E. Tractenberg will visit Melbourne in August to present a range of talks and workshops. As a tenured professor in the Department of Neurology at Georgetown University, USA, and with secondary appointments in the Departments of Biostatistics, Bioinformatics & Biomathematics and Rehabilitation Medicine, Prof Tractenberg embodies a wealth of knowledge across diverse fields including neuropsychological assessment, statistical methodology and literacy, research ethics, and higher education curriculum development and evaluation. Further details in ‘Biography’ below. 

As an esteemed member of EMBL-ABR’s International Scientific Advisory Group, we are thrilled to bring Prof Tractenberg to Australia. We have been lucky to work with Dr Victoria Perreau of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health to offer the following opportunities for training and exchange. We also gratefully acknowledge a grant from the Florey Institute to support this visit.

Teaching and training: lessons from education and cognitive science to promote learning


Tuesday 21st August, 12-1pm: register here

In 2017, Feldon et al. published a study of the results of federally (grant) -funded “bootcamp” type training in data science/technology that was aimed at doctoral-level graduate students in the US. Their results showed that these short/sharp training experiences did not, in fact, lead to any discernable differences between students who did, and those who did not, attend the workshops. This webinar will discuss these results as not surprising – given what is known about adult learners, cognition, and common design characteristics of both short/sharp and longer instructional opportunities. To overcome the difficulties the Feldon et al. results highlighted, we will examine lessons from education; from cognitive science; and from the Data and Software Carpentries. These lessons can be applied to any adult learning experience (“bootcamp”, course, program or curriculum).

Conceptual and statistical considerations in interpretable neuro* research

(* = -science, -logy, -psychology)

Special Seminar in the Florey Institute’s Neuroscience Seminar Series, Chair: Prof Trevor Kilpatrick

Wednesday 22nd August, 12-1pm, Ian Potter Auditorium, Kenneth Myer Building, University of Melbourne

This talk will explore the ways in which under-acknowledged, under-appreciated, but fundamental weaknesses in common measures and instruments actually undermine research that involves neurological, neuropsychological, and neuro-scientific outcomes. Measurement properties and considerations arise in the design of clinical, experimental, and observational studies – particularly with respect to the selection of endpoints or outcomes; and they can also affect the interpretability of results. Unfortunately, the software with which the data are analysed almost always will run, because the programs do not know whether or not the data were collected using valid tools. Many people believe that, if they get “a result”, then it must be interpretable. However, if you choose an outcome based on the incorrect assumption that it measures what you want it to, the fact that the results do not represent what you intended them to may not be clear – until the next study fails to replicate earlier findings. The talk will also briefly discuss approaches to the conceptualisation of outcomes that can lead to stronger study design, as well as to results that are interpretable and reproducible.

This seminar will be followed by a workshop on Measurement and Complexity in Neurological Research for an invited group of students from the Mental Health PhD Program.

Unexpected Ethical Challenges in Neuroscience

Melbourne Dementia Research Centre Seminar Series, Chair: Prof Ashley Bush

Thursday 23rd August, 1-2pm, Ian Potter Auditorium, Kenneth Myer Building, University of Melbourne

Neuroscience is a multi-disciplinary domain, with influences of highly-experimental sciences (biology, psychology) and more clinical work (neurology). Because much of the ethical training for neuroscientists can derive from the historical emphasis on ethics relating to research involving humans, privacy and confidentiality; autonomy; beneficence and non-malevolence (and sometimes, social justice) are focal features in research ethics training. Five other challenges that may be unrecognised – and unaddressed – are the focus of this talk:

  • mismatch of data and/or analysis to the decision they should support
  • sample size that is affordable/feasible rather than generalisable
  • innovation that does not lead to reliable or reproducible results
  • failure to correct for multiple comparisons
  • failures to consider the difficulties in translating outcomes in translational research paradigms.

Focussing on strong experimental design and a positivist approach to hypothesis testing, together with considerations of statistical literacy and its development, can assist the neuroscience community in identifying and avoiding these ethical dilemmas.

Supplementary Workshop: Statistical Literacy and Ethical Neuroscience

Thursday 23rd August, 2.30-5pm, Level 5 Seminar Room, Kenneth Myer Building, University of Melbourne

Statistics is a dynamic and diverse discipline with which many other disciplines, including neuroscience, may have a love-hate relationship. While new automated analytic methods can exploit massive amounts of data, the interpretation—and, possibly more importantly, the replication—of results from these methods are challenging without adequate statistical literacy. Statistical literacy is a learnable, improvable, skill-set, which was outlined recently in a new, developmental, model of statistical literacy that reflects the complexity of reasoning and habits of mind that practicing scientists, and those who work with data for a living, need to cultivate in order to recognise, choose, and interpret statistical methods. Without discussing formulas, and without the confound of software varieties, this workshop will focus on quantitative thinking across and throughout the scientific method.

We introduce the knowledge, skills, and abilities that comprise statistical literacy, and participants demonstrate (using their own research interests and work), their integration of content and substantive knowledge (neuroscience) with statistical reasoning, including identification and justification of the chosen statistical method for research questions of different types. Throughout the workshop, the ethical implications of ‘failures’ to attend to statistical features of neuroscience will be highlighted (these failures will include the five that were introduced in the talk earlier that day).

Participants will be able to continue to cultivate and document their statistical literacy as it grows beyond the end of the workshop.

To ensure this workshop is interactive and relevant to participants, it’s open to just 18 attendees on a ‘first in’ basis. It is expected that participants will attend the ‘Unexpected’ Ethical Challenges in Neuroscience talk beforehand.

Register here

Prof Tractenberg will be in Sydney 8-14 August as well as attending the International Society for Clinical Biostatistics and Australian Statistical Conference in Melbourne if you would like to interact with her there.

If you would like to to arrange a meeting, please contact Christina from Melbourne Bioinformatics to schedule a time:


Prof Tractenberg is a tenured Professor in the Department of Neurology, with secondary appointments in the Departments of Biostatistics, Bioinformatics & Biomathematics and Rehabilitation Medicine at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. She is an Accredited Professional Statistician (PStat designation from the American Statistical Association), with PhDs in psychology/cognitive sciences (1997) and measurement, statistics, and evaluation (2009); she also earned a doctoral level certificate in gerontology (2006). Her areas of interest include higher education curriculum development and evaluation; statistical methodology and statistical literacy for effective stewardship of the discipline in PhD students/holders; neuropsychological assessment; the development and benchmarking of outcomes; experimental design; and longitudinal (latent variable) analytic methods. She was elected a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA) in 2016, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2017; she is the current Chair of the Committee for Professional Ethics of the ASA (2017-2019) and has published widely in research ethics for the practicing scientist, among other areas.

Prior to coming to Georgetown in 2002, Prof Tractenberg spent five years at the University of California at San Diego as a biostatistician and scientist within a national consortium of Alzheimer’s disease research centers, focusing on measurement issues in neuropsychological an neurological assessment and clinical research. Prof Tractenberg was the biostatistical consultant for the General Clinical Research Center 2003-2006 and joined the Neurology Department (primary appointment) in 2006. She established the Collaborative for Research on Outcomes and -Metrics (CROM) in 2008 and directs it; for more information, and summaries of current outcomes and metrics projects, check the CROM page at

Most of her research (talks, papers, posters) are uploaded to