Two faculty members from the Penn State Department of Statistics have been named Fellows of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics. Nicole Lazar, professor of statistics, and Aleksandra (Seša) Slavković, professor of statistics and associate dean for graduate education for the Eberly College of Science, have been recognized for their distinction in research and leadership in the field.
Created in 1935, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS) is a member organization that fosters the development and dissemination of the theory and applications of statistics and probability. The IMS has 3,500 active members throughout the world, and approximately 15% of its current membership has earned the status of fellowship. In 2021, 41 members were selected for IMA Fellowship by a committee of their peers.
Lazar was selected for “significant contributions to empirical likelihood and neuroimaging analysis, and for leadership to the profession.”
Lazar studies how statistics affects scientific practice, including fundamental problems in statistics such as model selection, multiple testing problems, and likelihood theory, specifically in the context of modern large-scale data analysis. She is also interested in the analysis of functional neuroimaging data, including from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Lazar takes a cross-disciplinary approach to her research and has been involved in the application of topological data analysis methods to questions of interest in psychology and climatology.
In 2008, Lazar authored the book The Statistical Analysis of Functional MRI Data, published by Springer. Additionally, a column she wrote for CHANCE Magazine was published in the 2014 edition of the Princeton University Press book The Best Writing on Mathematics. Lazar served as the president of the Caucus for Women in Statistics in 2019. She is an elected member of the International Statistical Institute and a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.
Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State, Lazar was an associate professor and then professor of statistics from 2004 to 2020 at the University of Georgia, where she also served as interim department head from 2014 to 2016. She was an assistant then associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University from 1996 to 2004. Lazar earned a doctoral degree in statistics at the University of Chicago in 1996, a master’s degree in statistics from Stanford University in 1993, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and statistics at Tel Aviv University in 1988.
Slavković was selected “for novel contributions to the development of statistical disclosure techniques and algebraic methods, for contributions to graduate research, and for contributions to editorial and other publication activities of the IMS and other statistical organizations.”
Slavković’s research focuses on developing and applying statistical methods for issues of data privacy and data confidentiality around sensitive information about individuals and groups from small and large scale surveys and from census, health, genomic, and network data. She uses tools from both statistics and computer science to provide formal privacy protection, such as differential privacy—which provides a framework for mathematically provable privacy guarantees—while supporting broad data access that allows for the accurate statistical inference needed to support reliable science and policy. Her other research interests include development of methods to evaluate human performance in virtual environments, statistical data mining, application of statistical methods to information sciences and social sciences, algebraic statistics, and causal inference.
In 2018, Slavković was recognized with the Penn State Graduate School Alumni Society Graduate Program Chair Leadership Award. She was named a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA) in 2018 and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute in 2012. Slavković is currently an associate editor of the Annals of Applied Statistics and the Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality and a data-privacy column editor for CHANCE magazine and has been named an editor of Statistics and Public Policy, effective January 2021. She previously served as an associate editor of the Journal of Statistical Computation and Simulation. She is currently the chair-elect of the ASA Social Statistics Section and served as the chair of the ASA Privacy and Confidentiality committee from 2018 to 2020. She has served on numerous advisory committees including the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) Advisory Committee on Statistics, the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) Expert Group on 2020 Census Data Products, the Penn State Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS) Faculty Advisory Board, and various National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council committees.
Slavković has served as associate dean for graduate education in the Eberly College of Science since 2018, where she works to enhance the graduate programs in the college, improve graduate student mentoring, and—working closely with the office for diversity and inclusion—to foster a positive climate for all members of the college. She is a co-founder of Women+ in Statistic and Data Science group at Penn State and previously served as associate head for diversity and equity and associate head for graduate studies in the Department of Statistics.
Slavković joined the faculty at Penn State in 2004 and also holds an appointment in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine, and is a faculty associate at the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences and an affiliate of the Center for Social Data Analytics and the Center for Machine Learning and Applications. She has held visiting scholar positions at Cornell University, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Minnesota, and Utrecht University.
Slavković received a bachelor's degree in psychology at Duquesne University in 1996, a master's degree in human-computer interaction in 1999, and master's and doctoral degrees in statistics, in 2001 and 2004 respectively, from Carnegie Mellon University.