Patrice Hazam: My Career Development Journey: from Academia to Industry Research Scientist
From an early age I knew that I wanted to study human behavior. My clinical practice began in one of many carpool rides to and from school, where I would convince friends, as well as myself, that I was their psychologist. By middle school I was completely intrigued by human behavior. My research from this period was, regrettably, never published. My goal from then on was to try to examine all the factors that influence and determine human behavior.
At 17, I began my undergraduate study at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA where I pursued coursework in psychology. As the first person in my family to attend college and the great granddaughter of a freed slave, this was uncharted territory. Much of my coursework at Franklin and Marshall College centered around theory. While I thoroughly enjoyed my coursework, I became increasingly fascinated with its real world applications.
While completing my final semester of undergraduate study I became a full time research associate at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). At PIRE, I was able to incorporate my previous programming training (one undergraduate C++ course) into a project in which we developed a PDA based program to aid in the collection of data created during a drunk driving arrest. This experience at a private research facility allowed me to experience the difference between academic research versus private research.
I then began working as a research associate at the University of California, San Diego in the Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Medicine program (NBMU). In this position I was able to see how a researcher can also function as a professor. In this role I aided in the development of research designs, writing protocols for approval by the Institutional Review Boards, grant writing, performing psychological assessments and cognitive testing, and statistical analysis. My experience here was where I first saw that the person doing the statistics, model building, analyses, etc. was able to move seamlessly from project to project and specialty to specialty. To further my knowledge in statistics I enrolled in a Clinical Biostatistics Advanced Certification at the University of California, San Diego.
Subsequently, I applied to graduate schools in psychology. I applied to three schools and got interviews at two. I chose to study Quantitative Psychology and Methods from the University of California, Merced. My research there was oriented around understanding and implementing appropriate statistical methodologies that permit causal inference and prediction. It was here that I decided to move to the private sector.
I am currently working as a Research Scientist at Meta to develop best practices for small businesses on our platforms through research and statistical analysis.
Naomi Altman: A Stats Professor by Happy Chance
I grew up in a book-filled home in suburban Toronto, the second child of a couple neither of whom finished high school but who had high academic aspirations for their children. My broad scientific interests were nurtured by my brother, who subscribed to Scientific American and insisted that I read the issues cover to cover. I was also lucky to be among the first students to have access to computer programming in high school.
I chose to major in mathematics in at U. of Toronto, not due to a deep interest, but due to my rebellion against the common motif that “girls can’t (or shouldn’t) do math”. I really struggled, especially in the first year of the “academic” math program which started off with in the fall with 100 students and courses in real analysis and group theory and ended up with 9 men and me. I continued to struggle through the remainder of the program, but had forged some strong ties with my 9 classmates by the time I graduated in 1974.
I had a strong urge to do something different from my high school and college friends and applied to CUSO, the Canadian version of the Peace Corps but was rejected. Instead, I got a job as a programmer with the Canadian weather bureau, programming up a finite element solution to long-term weather prediction. The following year, my CUSO application was accepted and I spent 2 years teaching math (actually arithmetic) and English to Nigerian students studying to become elementary school teachers.
Upon returning to Canada in December, my intention was to apply to graduate school to study the new field of machine learning. The Computer Science department at Toronto politely pointed out that they would require at least a year of undergraduate work in CS, and that classes would start in September. My former mathematics professors suggested I talk with the head of the new Dept. of Statistics that was about to start on January 2. Talk about luck! I walked into Dr. Fraser’s office and asked about the graduate program in Statistics. His response was that classes began the first Monday in January and would I like to proof-read his new book? It was that simple and that informal. He also found me a fellowship for the first semester and then a lecturing position (although I was seldom more than a chapter ahead of my Stat 200 students). I left with an MS and many friends with whom I still keep in touch.
I found a position doing statistical consulting for the medical school at U. of Toronto. However, I soon left for a consulting job in the Computing Center at Simon Fraser University and then for a research group in medical genetics at U. of British Columbia, both in Vancouver. And here’s where my luck got even better. In August, just before leaving for a trip to Indonesia via San Francisco, the meetings of the Canadian Statistical Society were in Vancouver and I had lunch with my MS advisor, Dr. Andrews and his former MS student Rob Tibshirani, (yes, that Tibshirani, luck) then a Ph.D. student at Stanford. Rob said I should visit Stanford, so I did. And here is where my luck got even better. The graduate secretary was on vacation, and I ended up chatting with the Dept. head, Dr. Sigmund. A professor from U. of Toronto was visiting Dr. Sigmund (luck) and recommended me to him. (Very lucky and kind as I had not done that well in his class.) An admitted student had just deferred (more luck) and Dr. Sigmund told me that I was admitted subject to suitable transcripts and GRE scores which I could submit upon returning from my trip.
And so I started my Ph.D. at Stanford. By then my classmates from Toronto had all completed Ph.D.s. I figured that if they could, I could. So I did, graduating in 1978.
The rest of the story in a nutshell is that I was in the Biometrics Unit at Cornell from 1977 to 2001 and the Dept. of Statistics at Penn State from 2001 to 2019. And that is the part of the story we will talk about during our conversation.