Susan Murphy receives MacArthur Fellowship

Susan Murphy, MacArthur Fellow. Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The MacArthur Foundation has named as 2013 MacArthur Fellows 24 exceptionally creative individuals with a track record of achievement and the potential for even more significant contributions in the future. Among them is IMS Fellow Susan Murphy, H. E. Robbins Professor of Statistics at the University of Michigan.

Susan is developing new methodologies to evaluate courses of treatment for individuals coping with chronic or relapsing disorders such as depression or substance abuse. In contrast to the treatment of acute illness, where clinicians make a single decision about treatment, doctors treating chronic ailments make a sequence of decisions over time about the best therapeutic approach based on the current state of a patient, the stage of the disease, and the individual’s response to prior treatments.

Susan has developed a formal model of this decision-making process and an innovative design for clinical trials that allow researchers to test the efficacy of adaptive interventions. While the standard clinical trial paradigm simply tests and compares “one shot” treatments in a defined population, Susan’s Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial (SMART) is a means for learning how best to dynamically adapt treatment to each individual’s response over time. Using SMART, clinicians assess and modify patients’ treatments during the trial, an approach with potential applications in the treatment of a range of chronic diseases—such as ADHD, alcoholism, drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, and cardiovascular disease—that involve therapies that are regularly reconsidered and replaced as the disease progresses.

As Susan continues to refine adaptive interventions, she is working to increase opportunities for implementation in clinical settings through collaborations with medical researchers, clinicians, and computer scientists focused on sequential decision making. By translating statistical theory into powerful tools for evaluating and tailoring complex medical therapies, she is poised to have a significant impact on the field of personalized medicine, an area of great activity in biomedical research today.

Susan Murphy received a B.S. (1980) from Louisiana State University and a PhD (1989) from the University of North Carolina. She was affiliated with Pennsylvania State University (1989–1997) prior to her appointment to the faculty of the University of Michigan, where she is currently the H. E. Robbins Professor of Statistics, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry, and a research professor in the Institute for Social Research. She is also a principal investigator at the Methodology Center of Pennsylvania State University.
MacArthur Fellows receive a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 (increased from $500,000) paid out over five years. Without stipulations or reporting requirements, the Fellowship provides maximum freedom for recipients to follow their own creative vision.

Cecilia Conrad, Vice President of the MacArthur Fellows Program, said of this year’s class of Fellows, “They are artists, social innovators, scientists, and humanists who are working to improve the human condition and to preserve and sustain our natural and cultural heritage. Their stories should inspire each of us to consider our own potential to contribute our talents for the betterment of humankind.”

See a video interview of Susan at

David Donoho video

As previously reported, IMS Fellow David Donoho was named the 2013 Shaw Prize Laureate in the Mathematical Sciences. David is profiled in a “Pearl Report” video, which also features comments from co-author Iain Johnstone. You can view the video at