Alumni SPOTLIGHT

Read what our alumni have to say about their experiences and training while at the Department of Statistics, and their interesting career highlights.

JESSICA KUNKE

Jessica Kunke, MS 2020, PhD candidate, University of Washington
PhD candidate, Department of Statistics, University of Washington

MS 2020

How was your experience in the MS program in Statistics?

My experience in the MS program was excellent preparation for my current PhD work.  The coursework gave me an intensive introduction to many areas of statistics and helped me to explore my research interests; classes were challenging, pushing me to learn broadly and delve deeply.  UChicago’s connection to other institutions such as Argonne National Laboratory opens up additional opportunities for internships and collaborations; I enjoyed conducting my thesis research at Argonne in collaboration with UChicago statistics faculty, and it broadened the range of projects that I could pursue.  I entered the MS program wanting to explore my research and career interests, and UChicago afforded me many opportunities to do so as long as I kept investigating and reaching out to people.

Did you feel that the environment in the department was inclusive?

The department and the students both worked to foster a sense of community, organizing social events throughout the year and working together to prepare for classes.  I enjoyed getting to know the faculty and other students, and I am grateful for the meaningful relationships I found during my time there; I look forward to staying in touch and crossing paths again!

Did you feel that you had enough support within the department from faculty and staff to assist in any needs you may have had?

I had wonderful support from faculty and staff throughout the department. I am very grateful that Mei Wang helped me find funding to attend a workshop related to my research interests; the connections I formed there and the further exposure it gave me to the field has directly supported my research development during my PhD.  When I was applying to PhD programs, multiple faculty took time to give me valuable feedback on drafts of my essays, and researchers at Argonne generously gave me career guidance as I prepared for my doctorate.

How were your job prospects after graduating, and what are you doing now?

My experience at UChicago successfully prepared me to apply for PhD programs and gave me many options, allowing me to find a great fit for my next steps.  I am now happily working toward my PhD at the University of Washington.  I think it's a great idea to connect with and learn from as many statistics communities as one can; I am grateful for everything I learned and everyone I worked with at UChicago and Argonne, and for the opportunity to learn new perspectives and research directions at UW now.

Are there aspects of your degree program that have been particularly relevant or useful in your job hunt or current work?

The electives I took during the program and the research I did for my thesis gave me a valuable introduction to a variety of topics in statistics, which has been very helpful during my PhD as I work on projects, read papers, and consider research directions.  Thanks to this preparation, I’ve been able to hit the ground running during my first year as a doctoral student, completing coursework and starting research.

Is there anything else you would like to add for prospective students to know when applying to the program?

UChicago has so many departments, institutes, centers, affiliations, fellowships, etc. that it's hard to have a central place to advertise/learn about them all.  If you look around, get on listservs, talk to people, attend seminars/events outside the department, you might be amazed how many opportunities you find.

There's also a lot of capacity to make things happen if the opportunity you're looking for doesn't already exist, or exists outside the university.  For example, I mentioned I found a workshop in a subfield of great interest to me, but the workshop was happening in another state in the middle of the term.  I reached out to the department, and they helped me make it work.  The workshop turned out to be very formative in determining my research directions!

When applying to any program, I highly recommend talking with faculty and students in each program you’re considering so that you can ask questions tailored to your own goals/path and hear additional insights that will help you find the best fit for you.  Best wishes as you decide what the next step on your path will be!


VIVAK PATEL

Vivak Patel, PhD 2018
Assistant Professor, Department of Statistics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

PhD  2018

How was your experience in the Ph.D. program in Statistics?

My time at the department was an important period of intellectual and professional growth that would not have happened for a person like me without two key features of the department: the support to freely pursue topics within and outside of statistics, while also fostering a culture of curiosity amongst the students. The combination of those two features allowed me to carve my own path, learn from my colleagues, and achieve the high standards required by the department.

Did you feel that the environment in the department was inclusive?

While all departments across the country need to work towards greater diversity and inclusion, my cohort had people from nearly every continent. And as the only American in my cohort, it was a unique opportunity to truly learn about each other and our collective histories.

Did you feel that you had enough support within the department from faculty and staff to assist in any needs you may have had?

Yes, without question (even when I was not deserving of it).

How were your job prospects after graduating, and what are you doing now?

I am currently an assistant professor of statistics at UW Madison.

Are there aspects of your degree program that have been particularly relevant or useful in your job hunt or current work?

While the training is certainly integral to my current position, the less obvious things were equally important: learning how to advise from observing the faculty, learning what it means to be a colleague, and learning the more social aspects of being faculty.

Is there anything else you would like to add for prospective students to know when applying to the program?

The PhD is a complicated experience. The attraction of the department is not just the great faculty or the incredible city of Chicago, it is also the unique culture within the department that will continue to pay dividends no matter what path you take.