How was your experience in the PhD program in Statistics?
It was a demanding and enriching experience, and one that was very formative for me. I had a pretty good idea going into graduate school that I wanted to do interdisciplinary research in statistical climatology, and I found great support from my advisors (Michael Stein in statistics, and my co-advisor Liz Moyer in the geosciences). I found along the way that I also very much enjoyed teaching, and I was grateful for the opportunities and encouragement to refine my teaching skills. I also learned a lot from chatting with my peers about what we were all working on. I felt like I could be a part of a lot of different overlapping intellectual communities and I got a lot out of that. Lastly, I loved living in Chicago.
Did you feel that the environment in the department was inclusive?
Keeping in mind that I do not have identities that would systematically bias my experience towards exclusion, I felt supported and had a sense of belonging in the department. The department does not exist in a vacuum and I certainly witnessed for example racism, sexism, and homophobia among members of the departmental and broader University community. The field of statistics also needs to improve in this regard.
Did you feel that you had enough support within the department from faculty and staff to assist in any needs you may have had?
It is hard to overstate how much I learned from my regular meetings with my advisors and their larger group meetings, and it was always clear to me that they cared very much about mentorship. In addition to their intellectual support, they also provided plenty of support to participate in conferences and workshops and establish myself as a member of the community. I was also very grateful for staff support for things ranging from computational resources to travel plans and expenses. I am deeply indebted to John Zekos (Systems Administrator in the department) for helping me to understand my computing needs and negotiate my startup funds at my current job, as just one example!
How were your job prospects after graduating, and what are you doing now?
I am a statistics professor at Carleton College, an undergraduate liberal arts college in Minnesota, which is the job I got directly out of the PhD program. I applied to academic jobs very selectively, weighing both the kind of job I wanted as well as geographic location, and I am grateful to have gotten a job that aligned so well with my values. I have also been very impressed seeing the shapes of the careers of my peers in the department since completing our PhDs, and overall I think that the job prospects for graduates of the department are quite good.
Are there aspects of your degree program that have been particularly relevant or useful in your job hunt or current work?
The way that I was taught to think carefully about statistical modeling, and the collaborative and interdisciplinary skills I developed, continue to influence both my research and pedagogy. The opportunities to teach during the PhD program were also highly useful to me both in my job hunt and current work.
Is there anything else you would like to add for prospective students to know when applying to the program?
Being a PhD student is a wonderful opportunity to focus deeply on an area that you are interested in, but it is also a job and one that will be both intellectually and emotionally challenging. Make sure there are a few faculty in the department who you think you might be excited to work with, and talk with current students if you are admitted. The two most important things are finding a good mentorship relationship and finding a community of mutual support from your peers. My advisor is retired from the department, but there are many other great faculty members in the department, including a bunch of folks who have joined the department since I finished my degree. Likewise, progress in graduate student unionization at the University has been exciting.