April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, a timely opportunity to help raise the awareness and understanding of the field.
To aid this quest, a number of renowned Wiley Editors, Editorial Board Members and Authors have taken the time to tell us why they embarked on their journey in their chosen fields, what inspires and excites them, and why they’d encourage you to take the plunge!
This month The Wiley Network will publish some selected responses for you to read and share with your colleagues, students and friends. All responses will feature on StatisticsViews.com throughout April.
In continuing our series, Dr Fabrizio Ruggeri, Research Director at the Italian National Research Council in Milan shares his story.
I could say that statistics chose me, rather than vice versa. Since I was a kid, I wanted to become a mathematician and I made my dreams come true when I became a student in Mathematics at the University in Milano. I liked Algebra, Analysis and Topology a lot but I was also attracted by Applied Mathematics. Probability and Statistics seemed very interesting but I was very disappointed by the courses I took (actually given by Professors of Geometry and Numerical Analysis, respectively). Then I went to a Professor of Operations Research to get a topic in his field on which I would have worked to write my B.Sc. dissertation (which could have been a tough research job in those days). He sent me to his collaborator, who later became my colleague at the Italian National Research Council for 30 years; he asked me to work on the extension of a paper on Bayesian nonparametrics (very popular nowadays but at the very beginning in those days) and I eventually started enjoying Statistics, especially the Bayesian approach: that’s why I wrote that Statistics chose me. After starting as a statistician “by chance”, I became seriously involved because I loved the topic and I obtained a M.Sc. and a Ph.D. in Statistics (both in the United States, at Carnegie Mellon and Duke, respectively).
Under the word “Statistics” there are actually many “Statistics”. I am currently Vice President of the International Statistical Institute, the most important statistical associations at international level, and I can see many different areas under its umbrella: Mathematical Statistics, Official Statistics, Survey Sampling, Statistical Education, Environmental Statistics, Computational Statistics, Industrial and Business Statistics. And we could add others, e.g., Astrostatistics, Biostatistics and Chemometrics, without forgetting “cool” names appeared in recent years, like Data Mining, Business Analytics, Machine Learning and Data Science (although the latter ones involve not only statisticians). I found my way first into Mathematical Statistics since I found it the best way to fulfil my early passion for Mathematics and the new one for Statistics, so that I could use methods from Analysis in considering phenomena typical of our world, where everything is, more or less, stochastic. Later, I discovered applications, especially in Industrial Statistics but also in other fields like Environmental Statistics, Biology and Biostatistics.
The possibility of cooperating with other researchers in addressing problems in their field using my “tools” is the most exciting aspect of my job.
My early career was fuelled by the search for “beautiful” Mathematics, with sophisticated proofs, whereas later on I got more and more interested in the study of stochastic models, motivated by and motivating applications. Cooperation with practitioners and researchers in other fields is very stimulating, not only because one can learn about other subjects but also because he/she can try to use and adapt stochastic models he/she knows and is stimulated in developing new ones. As an example, I worked on applications of stochastic differential equations in biology (predator-prey models) and engineering (thermal properties of materials and wear of mechanical components), using models developed by others initially, then adding some “epsilon” (an expression typical for a mathematician, but less for the schoolmates of my kids when they were using it at the elementary schools) and then applying them in a different environment. I contributed to such works with my experience as a Bayesian statistician, but there were also applied probabilists, numerical analysts, computational statisticians, engineers and biologists involved in the projects.
This is the direction where most of the researches involving statisticians go nowadays: cooperation among different experts in addressing more and more complex problems, often involving huge amounts of data (in few words, good for marketing: Data Science). The possibility of cooperating with other researchers in addressing problems in their field using my “tools” is the most exciting aspect of my job. I have reached a point in my career in which my philosophy is “I work on what I like, with whom I like and where I like”, of course looking for quality of the work! The path to get there is quite long and tough. After my B.Sc. degree, I worked for one year as high school teacher, two years as a researcher at Alfa Romeo (then an independent, state owned company) and two years as computer consultant before getting back to academia where I have been for more than 30 years since then. I wish I could have started my academic career earlier but there was a problem young people know well nowadays: lack of research jobs! My five years in what I call, improperly, “real world” allowed me to appreciate more the work I chose for the rest of my life and also my passion for application of my knowledge to real problems, especially industrial ones. Should I leave a message to students (like my youngest son, Ph.D. student in Theoretical Physics in Sweden) and researchers, then I would say “If you have a dream, then try to pursue it and fight for it”, where for “fight” I mean not only serious study and creative ideas but also the tough search for opportunities and jobs and the social action for the due respect for those who are involved in research so that they can have adequate jobs and research funds. One can lose in such “fight” and this would be very sad but, giving up without “fighting” is much worse!
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche-Istituto di Matematica Applicata e Tecnologie Informatiche, (CNR-IMATI), Milano, Italy.
Fabrizio Ruggeri received the B.Sc. degree in Mathematics from the University of Milano, Italy, the M.Sc. degree in Statistics from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, and the Ph.D. degree in Statistics from Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
He is currently Research Director with the Italian National Research Council, Milano, Italy, Adjunct Professor with the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia, faculty in the Ph.D. programme in Mathematics at the Universities of Milano Bicocca and Pavia, Italy, and faculty in the Ph.D. programme in Statistics at the University of Valparaiso, Chile. His research interests are mostly in Bayesian and Industrial Statistics, especially in Robustness, Decision Analysis, Reliability, and Stochastic Processes; recently, he became involved in Biostatistics, Biology and Epidemiology.
Dr. Ruggeri is an ASA (American Statistical Association) and ISBA (International Society for Bayesian Analysis) Fellow, an ISI (International Statistical Institute) Elected Member, a former ISBA and ENBIS (European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics) President, and the current ISI Vice President and ISBIS (International Society for Business and Industrial Statistics) President-Elect, besides, the Chair of the ISBA Industrial Section. He is a recipient of the Zellner Medal. He is also an Editor-in-Chief for the Applied Stochastic Models in Business and Industry journal, Encyclopedia of Statistics in Quality and Reliability (Wiley), and Wiley StatsRef. He is also the chair of the series of workshops on Bayesian Analysis of Stochastic Processes and co-director of the Applied Bayesian Statistics summer school, being also involved in many other conferences, like the recent World Statistics Congress of which he was the chair. He is author of more than 100 papers and author/editor of five books and, finally, he gave many invited talks around the world.