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Inspiring Tomorrow’s Statistics Leaders

Four students stand on either side of a banner at the 2019 Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference
Students Laura Wendelberger, Annie Tang, Alex Chen and Rebecca North at the 2019 Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference.

This article was submitted by Emily Griffith, research associate professor in the Department of Statistics and director of the Statistical Consulting Core.

As part of efforts to inspire students and develop the next generation of women leaders in statistics, Department of Statistics Head Len Stefanski has been using funds from his R.A. Fisher Distinguished Professorship endowment to send a group of women students to the annual Women in Statistics and Data Science (WSDS) conference for each of the past four years. This year, Eric Laber also funded a student’s attendance through his Goodnight Distinguished Professorship.

In addition to attending the conference, students in the program participated in pre-conference mentoring with Department of Statistics faculty members Emily Griffith, Herle McGowan and Alyson Wilson. The goal of the mentoring is to help students maximize the benefits of attending WSDS, a conference designed to help professionals and students find unique opportunities to grow their influence, community and knowledge.

This year’s cohort consisted of doctoral students Alex Chen, Rebecca North, Annie Tang and Laura Wendelberger as well as undergraduate students Jess Phillips and Kate Sanborn. All six students enjoyed learning about their career options and meeting influential women in many different areas of statistics.

WSDS is a unique conference in that plenary speakers often discuss their own career paths and reflect on factors that helped them succeed. Chen learned a lot from these talks, noting that “nothing is more touching than a real-life story in front of you.” North described the conferences as a “pivotal event in [her] graduate school career.”

During the opening panel, one of the speakers drew a distinction between belonging and being included, and Wendelberger noted that “this was really impactful for me as both something I have felt, but not had the words to describe, and something that I can do to help others succeed.”

Phillips and Sanborn came away from the conference with more clarity about their futures. “The most interesting part of the conference was seeing what my future as a statistician may look like,” Phillips said. “I’m at a point in my undergraduate career when I’m graduating soon and I have to decide what I’m going to do next, so hearing about so many career paths and opportunities definitely gave me a few ideas about what my next step may be.”

“The connections and the opportunity to soak in all the inspirational work being done by all of these amazing women is invaluable,” Sanborn said. “It is my hope to be on the flip side of the conference and present my own original work in the coming years.”

Tang summed up the conference experience by saying that the field of statistics has a very bright future.

“I cannot wait to see what is in store both for me and for the field,” she said. “I plan to keep their words of wisdom to heart, and live by (University of Washington Emeritus Professor of Statistics) Elizabeth Thompson’s motto to ‘think science, think positive, think why’ in my Ph.D. studies and beyond.”