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Meet Ming-Hui Chen, Head of Statistics

Department of Statistics
Ph.D.: Purdue University
Office Location: Philip E. Austin Building

What would you say are the areas of strength of the Department of Statistics?
The Department of Statistics’ areas of strength include vital research in a number of areas and an established interdisciplinary presence in many fields, some of which are cancer research, public health, genomics, environmental science, econometrics and finance. We also have a vigorous campus consulting service, in which we help scientists from many different fields analyze their data. We are leaders on editorial boards of major international statistical journals, and serve as officers in major international statistical societies. Our faculty are also consistently supported by external research funding. Internally, we have a track record of mentoring of junior colleagues and teaching excellence, and we’re proud of the ethnic and gender diversity of our faculty.

What interests students in studying statistics?
Our students have been drawn into statistics by the prospects of good job opportunities, especially with increasing awareness of the role of statistics in big data analysis. Our graduates have consistently found employment and our Ph.D. graduates publish their research in leading international journals. Many of our undergraduates attend national and international conferences, which help in their networking. As distinguished statisticians Marie Davidian and Thomas Louis recently noted in Science magazine, “The future demands that scientists, policy-makers, and the public be able to interpret increasingly complex information and recognize both the benefits and pitfalls of statistical analysis.”

What are the most popular classes taught in statistics?
Classes in statistical computing, data analysis with computing, sampling methods, and applied statistics incorporating study of real problems, as well as classes in illuminating theory, are especially popular among graduate and undergraduate students.

What types of jobs do undergraduate and graduate students pursue after attaining a statistics degree?
Undergraduates often seek employment in data analysis in the financial, sports, and health industries. Our graduate students go on to academic positions, biostatistics in the health and pharmaceutical industries, statistics in the financial industry, and statistics/biostatistics in various government agencies such as the Census, the Department of Transportation, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health.

Have there been recent changes to the Department of Statistics that have strengthened your department?
Since 2012, five junior-level faculty have joined the department, with two or more expected to join next year. Many of these faculty have expertise in biostatistics. In Fall 2015, we launched the Professional Masters in Statistics program. Both the graduate program and the undergraduate program have also been substantially expanded.

What do you see as upcoming challenges or opportunities for your department?
Increasing enrollment in classes and in majors will demand that we hire more faculty for teaching and supervision of students. As our statistical consulting services grow, we will also seek additional reources and support for that program.

Are there any common misconceptions about statistics?
The role of statisticians in big data analytics is not well understood by the public. Computer scientists have technical expertise to handle large data, but statisticians have the expertise to make sense of the data. To extract valuable insight, knowledge, or scientific discovery from big data, effective statistical skills are vital. This places statistics at center stage, cross-cutting through all domains of applications from healthcare to genomics, from manufacturing to the environment. Handling big data clearly requires new computational methodologies. However, to be able to draw conclusions and make predictions from big data, and do so with a desired level of certainty, requires new statistical methods.

Where do you see the field of statistics going in the next 10 years?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be a 34 percent increase of statisticians in the next 10 years, as demand for statisticians in many different sectors continues to grow. Big data, precision medicine, and neurosciences will certainly make rapid advances.

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