Frequently Asked Questions

What inspired you to become a mathematician, ability or just a love/challenge of the subject?

I was pretty good in math in high school, I got good grades in my math courses. But I could never do those tricky tests associated with various national contests! I wanted to study computers at University, so I took lots of math in my first year. In second year I found my stats course a lot more interesting than my computer course, so I gradually shifted more and more to statistics.

What is your educational background as far as schools, degree(s), and mathematics?

B. Math, U of Waterloo, 1974  Major Statistics

M.Sc. U British Columbia, 1976  
Again in Statistics

PhD Stanford U, 1979
You guessed it, statistics.  Stanford has one of the best stats departments
in the world, and this was a fantastic opportunity for me.  I met many
lifelong friends there, and got a great education.

What all have you done with your degree(s), and how are you putting them to use presently?

Well, I have an academic job, which requires a PhD. But there are lots and lots of things you can do with a math degree. Math teaches you to think logically and clearly, and to work with abstract concepts, and many companies are more interested in hiring graduates with these skills than with specialised skills in accounting or whatever. Of course this is all hard to explain to your parents' neighbours. But we have graduates working in banks, pharmaceutical companies, government departments such as Statistics Canada and Health Canada, private consulting firms, market research firms, financial investment houses, small high-tech companies, and so on. We keep a very random list of job ads that come our way on our web page www.utstat.utoronto.ca/stats/adjobs.html.

Can you describe a normal day in the life of a mathematician?

Much like everyone else's, I guess. Mad scramble from 7 to 8.30 am to get everyone fed and lunches packed and out the door to school, and myself out the door to work. Arrive work around 9 am. Then the day is less predictable! Some days I teach for 2 or 3 hours; some days I have a lot of meetings, with graduate students or other researchers, or visiting colleagues. Most days I go to the gym at lunch. I often spend an hour or two writing reference letters for people, and reviewing other peoples' work, sometimes papers that people have submitted to journals that need to be evaluated for their correctness and quality, sometimes work that graduate students have done that needs comments and suggestions for further work. But my favourite day is a research day. That's when I close my door and forward my phone and work on whatever current research project I have going. I find research really fun, although it's also sometimes really hard. It's I suppose a bit like writing a novel. You need ideas, and you need a lot of quiet time to think about your ideas, and once in a while you get a really good idea that lets you solve some tricky problem that's been bugging you. I spend a lot of effort in writing up my results for publication, I try to write clearly and explain hard things simply. A lot of my research is done jointly with other people, often my husband, who is also a statistician, and also with colleagues from a wide variety of locations: Oxford, England; Calcutta, India; Lausanne, Switzerland; to name a few. With my foreign colleagues I usually work by email, and once a year or so either they visit here or I visit there.

Some days I give a lecture to a group either at my home university or I visit a local university. Once in a while I go out of town to meet with other mathematicians, and about once or twice a year I go somewhere really nice for a conference. On ordinary days I work till about 5. I mostly try to keep my evenings and weekends for family.

Do you enjoy this life/career?

Yup, I love it! I get to learn new things nearly every day, I have friends all over the world that I've met through research, I can work on things that interest me, and I get paid for it! I like teaching students at every level, although I confess to losing patience occasionally with students who seem to be determined to hate their stats course no matter what. The one difficult thing is that there is an unlimited amount of work to do, so you never feel as though you're 'finished'. But I've slowly got used to that over the years, and having children at home helps me to keep things in perspective.

Have you experienced any favoritism/discrimination because you are considered a minority in your field?

Very little discrimination. I've been lucky. I've run across a few dinosaurs that made dumb jokes at meetings, but the people that mattered to me, and the people that have been directly senior to me, such as my department chairs when I was starting out, my teachers at U Waterloo, my PhD supervisor, and others, have always been extremely supportive. Or more importantly, they've always treated me the same as everybody else.