Meet Miaoyan Wang, PhD’15

How was your experience in the PhD program in Statistics?

My experience in the PhD program in Statistics at the University of Chicago was exceptional.

I started my PhD program armed with a solid foundation in pure mathematics. However, my exposure to statistics that time was limited, with only a few courses in probability during my undergraduate studies. Initially drawn towards becoming a probabilist, I discovered my true passion for applied statistics and machine learning during my graduate studies. The department's exceptional faculty members, renowned for their expertise in both fields, created an environment conducive to my academic growth. The department's open culture allowed me to pursue my chosen path, and I had the privilege of being part of a cohort of bright, dedicated, and well-trained fellow students.

Do you think your needs were met within the department in that it accommodated your background and experiences both personally and culturally?

The department played a vital role in my cultural growth. Having lived within a 100-mile radius of my home in China for the past 20 years, UChicago was my first experience being abroad. My English skills were initially weak, but the department provided language courses to support me. My advisor, Mary Sara Mcpeek, was instrumental in teaching me academic writing and fostering critical thinking. Their guidance and support significantly contributed to my current career.

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

The staff at the university is truly exceptional. I have two noteworthy examples to highlight their excellence. On my first day on campus, I encountered an issue with my laptop's operating system. I promptly reached out to Edward Friedman, the Systems Admin, who efficiently resolved the problem and returned my laptop with the system fixed. Additionally, he generously provided a tutorial on the Linux system. During my final semester, while creating a personal homepage for my job search, Mitzi provided invaluable support in setting up the website and even helped me identify and correct several overlooked typos. These experiences fostered a sense of warmth and hospitality, making me feel right at home.

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

I am an associate professor of statistics, with early tenure in 2023 at UW-Madison. During grad school, I leaned towards pursuing an academic career, but I remained open to industry opportunities. In the 4th year, I undertook a summer internship at a large company, but I found it was not my passion. This experience solidified my determination to pursue academic jobs. Therefore, I did a Simons + X postdoc in mathematics at UPenn and computer science at UC Berkeley, under the guidance of Professor Yun S. Song. Following this, I applied for tenure-track positions and received offers from several prestigious programs. I chose the University of Wisconsin - Madison due to its diverse research areas and the peaceful lifestyle as a mid-sized town. Currently, I am also a faculty affiliate in Institute for Foundations of Data Science (IFDS), an NSF-sponsored multi-institutional initiative between Universities of Wisconsin-Madison (!), Chicago (!), Washington, and California-Santa Cruz. This connection makes me feel close to my alma mater.

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

During my doctoral studies, I took a variety of courses taught by top-notch faculty members. This department has gained widespread recognition for its propensity to pose the most formidable questions during coursework. This rigorous training has played a pivotal role in shaping my current academic taste. When I was in UChicago, I focused on statistical genetics under the advisory of Mary Sara McPeek. My interdisciplinary pursuits has been shaped under her guidance and mentorship. I couldn't have asked for a better mentor. McPeek's meticulous attention to rigor and unwavering support have been invaluable to my growth. After completing my PhD, I delved into the realms of machine learning and information theory, finding joy in exploring the synergy between these domains.

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

I’d encourage prospective students to adopt a long-term perspective and avoid pursuing only the easily attainable goals. The University of Chicago is renowned for nurturing independence in its students, encouraging them to explore their own research interests and pursue publications. While the investments made may not yield immediate results or be considered low-hanging fruit, they will ultimately enhance your competitiveness and contribute to long-term growth.