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Graduate Student Highlights

Aratrika Mustafi

Aratrika Mustafi

How did you decide to study Statistics?

Ever since I was a kid, Mathematics has been by fascination. I was kind of nerdy and studious, spending the entire day solving math puzzles and problems. In high school, I decided to major in Mathematics and I was determined to get into a specific institute. Although I focused all my energy and motivation on getting admitted there, unfortunately, I did not make it. This low moment helped me to develop a positive attitude while dealing with failure. Around that time, I came across a book called How to lie with statistics which introduced me to the field of Statistics and motivated me to pursue it as my major. My undergrad at Calcutta University made me realize the vastness and depth of the field of Statistics, and this prompted me to pursue higher studies. Since I felt there is greater flexibility in the curriculum of Masters courses in the U.S. as compared to India, I applied to schools in the U.S. and got into Columbia. After completing my Masters, I wanted to pursue research and so I joined Penn State for my PhD in Statistics.

What inspires you as a scientist?

I believe that Statistics as a field has an immense scope for application in diverse fields, since any sound scientific investigation must be based on appropriate statistical principles. I feel that there are countless questions that are still unexplored and this strongly motivates me to learn more and pursue research in this topic. I really hope to make significant contributions to the statistical literature.

What area of statistics are you most interested in?

I am currently motivated to work on data privacy issues, in particular in the field of differential privacy. I am also interested in the theory and mathematics behind machine learning and deep learning. Also, I would like to work on a relatively new topic called topological data analysis which uses topological tools to get more inference about data.

Where are you from?

I'm from a town in the state of West Bengal in India. I'm not a big city girl, so State College is exactly my kind of place. I have spent 20 years in India, then moved to New York for my master’s degree. Although it was a big change for me, I didn’t really experience a culture shock since New York is very metropolitan. It was overwhelming to meet people from different countries and backgrounds, but it helped me expand my horizon and get settled here. 

What are your hobbies?

I love painting. Although I have not practiced for many years, whenever I feel close to getting burnt out, I bring out my sketchbook. I love drawing portraits and pencil sketches. I have not made any drawings around State College yet, but I would love to. The town is so pretty and there are so many places to capture. I have also practiced traditional Indian dancing during my childhood, specifically a style called Bharatanatyam that originated in the South of India. Painting remains as my biggest hobby and more recently, I have developed an interest in photography.

What would be your ideal day off?

My real ideal day off would be simply chilling at home, cooking, watching movies, listening to music and reading books.

What do you like most of Penn State so far?

At first, I was intimidated by the prospect of working in a huge department where I knew no one. Ever since I have arrived here at Penn State, most of the people I have interacted with are from the department. What I love about the department is that the people are very friendly and welcoming. There are a great number of professors and graduate students pursuing diverse research interests. I now have the opportunity to interact and work with people that I have grown up studying and reading about. They are coming to talk to us, having lunch with us, and I can meet them in the hallway. It is a little overwhelming, but also amazing.

Do you have any statistics/data science humor or jokes to share?

There is a popular joke immediately comes to my mind: A physicist, a chemist, and a statistician are in a room when it suddenly catches on fire. Everyone scrambles to stop the flames. The physicist is trying to lower the ignition temperature. The chemist is trying to cut out the oxygen supply. But the statistician is trying to light more fires. The physicist and chemist are very confused and run over to her. “What are you doing?! Why are you lighting more fires?!” And the statistician says: “Because I need an adequate sample size to study how fires can be stopped!”