St. Jude LIFE Biostatistician Plays to Win in Pediatric Cancer Fight

Kumar Srivastava

Deo "Kumar" Srivastava came to the U.S. from India in 1987.  

Deo "Kumar" Srivastava, PhD, loves cricket.

"Growing up in India," Srivastava said, "I played a lot."

"Cricket is like the Indian version of baseball," he added, "except you have wickets, and you don't throw the ball; you bowl it." He particularly loved playing Sunday matches with his boyhood chums.

Srivastava came to the U.S. in 1987 from Vadodara in the state of Gujarat, India. Today, he's the interim chair of Biostatistics at St. Jude.

"If you love what you do, you're going to excel at it," said Srivastava, echoing a sentiment expressed by his parents and grandparents.

As a boy, Srivastava lived with his grandparents for a time in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India. "My grandparents spoiled me," Srivastava said. Yet hard work was expected. Srivastava's grandfather always told him, "Nothing replaces hard work."

"The population of India is 1.3 billion," Srivastava explained. "We have been taught from Day One that you have to compete."

Srivastava's father, a professor, taught him about competition, discipline and the importance of loving what you do. 

His dad tended to the garden early in the morning. He left for work at 9:30 a.m. and returned about 6 or 7 p.m., usually reading before going to bed.

In time, the boy who loved reading, math and science graduated from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda with a master's degree in statistics. Srivastava, who devoted his free time to hanging out with friends, playing cricket and going to movies, said "I never thought I would leave India."

Srivastava was, however, interested in the applied aspects of statistics, which meant following the career advice of a respected professor to leave India. (At the time, statistical training in India was more theoretical than applied.)

Srivastava came to the States in September 1987 to attend the University of Rochester, a few miles south of Lake Ontario. "All of a sudden, it's winter," he recalled. "It was cold and damp and dark." To add insult to lake-effect snow, "Nobody played cricket," Srivastava said.

He learned to play tennis.

In 1993, Srivastava graduated, earning a PhD in statistics; he got married; and he accepted a job offer from St. Jude.

"The work we do is essential," said Srivastava, who oversees the analysis of data from the St. Jude LIFE Study, an investigation into the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment. "Even though we don't interact with the patient directly, we indirectly have a big influence."

"We're trying to help children with catastrophic diseases," Srivastava added. "That's the top thing on my mind."

Srivastava's family works hard, too. His wife, Kalpana, is a part-time teacher and a licensed real estate agent. His two daughters are attending university—the oldest, a graduate student in biostatistics at the University of Louisville; the youngest, an undergraduate student taking pre-med classes at the University of South Carolina.

"Love and work, work and love, what else is there really?" Sigmund Freud once said. He might have envisioned Srivastava.

"I have put a lot more sports into my life than my father did," Srivastava said. Sadly, about 10 years ago, Srivastava retired from tennis.

"I just got tired of picking up the balls every time, you know?" Srivastava said. "Now my favorite sport is racquetball."

A few of Srivastava's favorite things

  • Cricket when India plays (Srivastava plans to cheer for India during the World Cup.)
  • Traveling with his wife of 25 years, Kalpana
  • Mangoes from India ("India is known for mangoes; I love mangoes.")
  • Shelby Farms for trail running, being in nature

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