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Melinda Mills receives Trailblazer Award for Demographic Analysis

The Centre’s Director Melinda Mills has received the prestigious 2022 James W. Vaupel Trailblazer Award for Demographic Analysis from the European Association of Population Studies.


Professor Melinda Mills, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford and Nuffield College, won the 2022 award for her outstanding achievements in demographic analysis, including mathematical and biodemography.


Mills has studied family and fertility demography for the past two decades. Since 2010, she has focussed on genetics, biodemography of fertility, and behavioural outcomes. Her work on the genetic underpinnings of the timing and number of children, alongside links with sexual and externalising behaviour have been ground-breaking.

 

Here is a snapshot of her recent work as a trailblazer for demographic analysis.


2016: Mills led the first ever genome-wide association study of fertility behaviour. The study, published in Nature Genetics, isolated 12 genetic loci related to age at first birth and number of children, as well as finding biological links to infertility related diseases.


2018: Awarded a medal as Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her contribution to science and elected as a Fellow of the British Academy.


2020: She authored her second applied statistics textbook on applied statistical genetic data analysis (MIT Press), aimed at introducing social scientists to integrating molecular genetic data into their statistical models.


2020: Received the Clifford C. Clogg Award for mid-career achievement from the Population Association of America.


2021: Mills extended her 2016 research, leading a study that isolated 371 genetic variants associated with the age at first sex and birth as well as the genetics of self-control and externalising behaviour. The study was published in Nature Human Behaviour.


2022: A forthcoming study led by Mills, soon to be published in Nature Human Behaviour, links current genetic variants related to number of children to ancient genome data, showing selection of the FADS1/2 gene locus over thousands of years.

Mills’ high risk research has been supported by the Dutch National Science Foundation VIDI Award (2010-2014) and particularly the European Research Council. This includes her ERC Consolidator Grant SOCIOGENOME (2014-2019), ERC Advanced Grant CHRONO (2019-2024) and ERC Proof of Concept Grant DNA4Science (2021-2022).

 

Mills has also been a trailblazer in highlighting the importance of demography and issues of sample selectivity in genetic data and discoveries. This includes heterogeneity problems when examined across birth cohorts and countries (Nature HB), geographical bias (Comms Bio), and collider bias and confounding (Nature SciRep). She has also created a daily monitor, published in Nature Genetics, exposing the lack of ancestral diversity in genetic data samples.


Mills continues to nurture and secure funding for the next generation of demographers. She has supervised over 25 PhD students, 20 Postdoctoral researchers, and generated jobs for researchers at multiple career stages.


In 2019, Mills received over £13 million in funding from the Leverhulme Trust and Nuffield College to launch the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science to further develop high risk, disruptive demographic research.

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