Meet Joseph Guinness, PhD’12

How was your experience in the PhD program in Statistics?

It was an incredible experience. We got a rigorous education in theory and applications of statistics. In particular, the applied course sequence and our consulting experience left us feeling that we could competently analyze data and work with scientific researchers. I haven't seen a better educational program in applied statistics. We also had a lot of fun, chatting in the computer lab, organizing weekly tea, playing sports, and hanging out at the pub. I made many friends that I am still close with today.

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


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

We were afforded quite a bit of independence throughout the program, but we were of course brought back into line if we abused it. My experience, and the sense I got from others, is that faculty didn't do a lot of hand-holding with regards to our teaching and research, which forced me at least to take responsibility for whatever I was doing. We got constructive feedback from faculty when needed and were never told we did a good job when we didn't deserve it! All of these experiences made me and others independent and resilient, and I am thankful for it.

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

I only applied for two postdocs when I was graduating and got one of them, which is good in my opinion because you can't have more than one job. My advisor, Michael Stein, was helpful in advising me on job prospects, and has continued to be helpful throughout my career. I spent 2 years as a postdoc at NC State University and then was on the faculty there for 3 years. I have been at Cornell for the past 5 years as a faculty member.

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

The graduate curriculum was very "model-focused" in the sense that we were trained to think very carefully when specifying the assumed statistical model and trying to understand its assumptions and properties. This way of thinking has stuck with me throughout my career. Somewhat related, we were also trained to use carefully constructed and correct mathematical notation when writing about data and models. This has helped me write better papers and be a better teacher, as I try my best to pass down lessons to my students.

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

Doing a PhD is an incredible experience to spend nearly all your time learning things that are new to you and discovering things that are new to everyone. Enjoy it, work hard, and have fun.