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Math professor retires to new challenge in medical research

Unabridged from my Bonus Years column in the Lifestyle section of The Sunday Capital, Annapolis, Maryland

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”  So said Mark Twain.  But don’t even think about saying this to Charles Mylander.

Mylander is a statistician. Actually, he is much more than that. After earning an undergraduate degree in mathematics at Bowdoin College in 1960, he went on to earn a masters in industrial management from MIT – and then another masters in statistics from Stanford plus a doctorate in operations research from Stanford in 1974. The wag who said, “We grow older degree, by degree, by degree” might have had Charles Mylander in mind.

Charles – a tall, lanky, likeable guy but no green eyeshades – spent the early years of his career working on issues like national energy forecasts, coal consumption modeling, manpower planning for the military, scheduling how to phase in new products of R&D programs, such as a new generation of Army helicopters – all of this for government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy or for private sector consulting firms.

In 1972, when Charles was in his early 30s, he moved to the Annapolis area to join the faculty at the Naval Academy, as a professor in the mathematics department, teaching operations research, mathematics and statistics. He also worked on anti-submarine warfare studies before retiring from the USNA in 2005. Charles and Marilyn, his wife of 35 years and once a nurse at St. John’s College, live on Kent Island’s Love Point.

Though Charles retired from the Naval Academy, he was not about to retire from life. That also meant he would not retire from learning nor from using his knowledge in statistical analysis to get a better understanding of how the world works in medicine.

About that time, a physician-friend of the Mylanders asked if he might be interested in working with Dr. Martin Rosman at the Breast Cancer Center at the Anne Arundel Medical Center on research projects requiring statistical expertise.

It wasn’t long before Charles Mylander was a regular among the more than 750 volunteers who donate tens of thousands of hours each year to caring for patients or assisting with administrative duties. Charles works two days a week for four or five hours each day – and comes in at other times for essential meetings. Much of his advisory work involves the statistical analysis of quality-of-care studies in addition to advising physicians and other researchers engaged in breast cancer research projects.

According to Charles, “I love my work at the Breast Center. There’s lots of carry-over from statistical analysis I have done all my life. But there are also lots of new things to learn. The differences between medical research and engineering research are substantial. I am learning something new all the time. That’s good, and it keeps me on my toes.”

Charles doesn’t simply crunch numbers. He also works closely with researchers to apply appropriate analytical models to the design of on-going research projects.

When I asked what was most satisfying about his work, he said, “The work we do is important. It adds to a body of knowledge that saves lives. It improves the quality of care. It is also very rewarding to be part of a team that has made the AAMC Breast Center one of the most highly regarded in the nation, one on the cutting edge of clinical research on best practices in breast cancer treatment.”

“In addition,” he added, “working here is terrific because the AAMC folks are so nice and so appreciative of the help they get from people like me.”

Life is not all work. A swimming champ in his youth (you guessed it, he swam the breast stroke), Charles continues to look after his fitness. Charles and Marilyn also take off every year for a vacation. Last summer they joined a cruise sponsored by NPR’s Garrison Keeler, host of “A Prairie Home Companion” – and are going again this summer on a Keeler-hosted Baltic cruise.

In addition, each year we attend the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Because it’s a big international meeting with good mix of basic and clinical research presentations, it’s a great way for me to keep up with my new field of study.”

Charles Mylander is a good example of one way to find a bonus years career. Build on your strengths. Don’t wait to find something, but hone your peripheral vision to see opportunities when they arise. And don’t wait to be asked, but put your hand up. As Charles told me, “When you put your hand up, good things can happen. They sure did in my case.”

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