How was your experience in the PhD program in Statistics?
The training and experience I received in Chicago has served me well thus far in my career. I found the program quite challenging at times, but I think that helped me connect more with my peers. I look back fondly at my time in Chicago, especially huddled in the PhD offices with my classmates.
Do you think your needs were met within the department in that it accommodated your background and experiences both personally and culturally?
Yes. I came from a background in math, which helped a lot with the first year of courses. There was also a great deal of critical thinking required, especially about data and modeling choices, which at the time was new to me, but we received a lot of feedback in this area to help improve, plus we had a lot of opportunities to see how faculty thought through problems and situations, which also helped a lot.
Culturally, my year was pretty fun. It felt like every student came from a completely different background, but we all respected and learned from each other.
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. The staff (a few of whom are still around) were always great with anything we needed. The faculty was also always present and put a great deal of time into teaching us (something I didn't fully appreciate at the time). My advisor, Dan Nicolae, was also very supportive and engaging.
How were your job prospects after graduating, and what are you doing now?
I was pretty lucky with job prospects. I focused exclusively on academic roles and had a few options to choose from. Ultimately, I decided I liked the idea of living and raising my family in State College, PA, so I ended up joining Penn State. In 2019 I received tenure and became an Associate Professor.
In the spring of 2022 I had the opportunity to work with Amazon as a Principal Research Scientist. I enjoyed the work so much I decided to stay on, working remotely from State College (my family loves it here, so we decided to stay put). I am still an affiliated research professor with Penn State and maintain a few research projects with students and faculty there.
Are there aspects of your degree program that have been particularly relevant or useful in your job hunt or current work?
I think my degree provided a broad base of knowledge to build from. It meant that when I encountered new methods or algorithms, I could more quickly understand them at a deeper level and incorporate them into my work (or caution folks on their limitations). One of the most useful skills I was able to develop in Chicago was ability to think critically and deeply about problems. In my present role at Amazon, often a relatively simple solution will solve 90% of the inference/modeling problem, and the real pitfalls come as limitations or biases in the data.
Is there anything else you would like to add for prospective students to know when applying to the program?
Chicago is a great city with a ton to offer and the department is obviously one of the best departments in the world.