Dr. Jeffrey Negrea Joins Statistics and Actuarial Science as Assistant Professor

Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Jeffrey Negrea

Jeffrey Negrea received his B.Math. from the University of Waterloo in 2014, with a major in Mathematical Finance and two minors in Pure Mathematics and Actuarial Science. He completed an M.Sc. in 2017 and a Ph.D. in 2022, both in Statistical Sciences at the University of Toronto. He joined the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at the University of Waterloo on July 1, 2023 as an Assistant Professor after a one-year stay at the University of Chicago’s Data Science Institute as a Postdoctoral Research Scholar.

The following texts were from conversations at a recent lunch between Jeffrey and the chair of the department, Professor Changbao Wu, with some refining through email exchanges.

What were the factors getting you to Waterloo for undergraduate studies, and how was your experience as an undergraduate student?

  • I knew I liked mathematical sciences but was not sure what to do with it. Waterloo seemed to have the most options and most flexibility to explore possible paths based on that. I had no idea what specific major I wanted to do in the math faculty when I started. Everything seemed interesting! The ability to explore so many specializations within mathematical sciences, in my view, absolutely set Waterloo apart from the other schools I had applied to. 
  • The co-op program was also appealing to me, both because of the work experience and the financial benefit. I did not have a plan to go into academia when I was 17 and applying for undergrad, so the prospect of being two years ahead of my peers in terms of experience when entering the job market was an obvious benefit. The regular pay from co-op helped to offset my cost-of-living during undergrad considerably.
  • I made many life-long friends during that time. We drove each other to be better both academically and otherwise; and, we still do.

Tell us how you got connected with your PhD supervisor Dan Roy, your experience as a graduate student at UofT, and the research you did for your PhD studies?

  • Towards the end of my Masters, a senior PhD student at the time, Victor Veitch (another Waterloo grad :)), suggested I could attend his advisor’s weekly group meetings to learn what they were interested in and working on---and that there would be free food. Naturally, as a graduate student, it was physically impossible for me to resist free food. It turns out that what they were discussing was also incredibly interesting and timely, everyone was engaged in the discussions, and all ideas were welcome and encouraged. I knew that this was a good fit for me, both in terms of subject area and social compatibility. I think people undervalue the social aspect of interactions with advisors, peers, and collaborators, but in my experience compatibility, communication, and inclusivity make a huge difference. Dan’s group was an exceptionally good fit for me, especially in this regard. 
  • I enjoyed my time as a graduate student tremendously. I felt free to pursue whatever research excited me, and had very positive experiences with my peers and the faculty at UofT and the Vector Institute. The network you form as a graduate student, especially your PhD cohorts, stay with you for life. I had opportunities to be a leader both academically and socially, to teach and learn from my peers, and to grow as a researcher and as an individual.
  • The freedom I had to pursue whatever research interested me led me to work on several distinct topics. These included statistical learning theory, sequential decision making, and computational stats and Markov chain Monte Carlo methods (some of which with my co-supervisor and masters supervisor Jeff Rosenthal). 
  • Most of the research I did with Dan was incredibly collaborative. There were often two PhD students working jointly on a project and sharing and working through ideas together. I want to acknowledge my (formerly-)student collaborators Mahdi Haghifam and Blair Bilodeau especially. Working closely on a problem together with a collaborator is my favorite way to work. You each bring your own perspective to the discussion and learn from each other, making an effective collaboration more than the sum of the individual contributions.

What are the main reasons for you to join Waterloo as a faculty member, and what are your plans for the next few years?

  • I had a few options when I was on the job market for where to go. Waterloo appealed to me for several reasons. First, I know how strong, motivated, and hardworking the students here are, having been one myself. I am excited to work here and give back to the university community. Second, Waterloo is not just a university town; it is a thriving, diverse, community filled with other young professionals, and is part of the growing and monolithic southern Ontario tech corridor. Because of this, there are a myriad of experiences to be had both locally and a short drive away in my original home city of Toronto. And, I expect there will be a plethora of opportunities for the students I mentor. Third, it is close to family for us; I grew up in North York, as did my spouse, and our family are all still around southern Ontario. 
  • In order to expand my own horizons before (re-)joining the University, I spent one year as a postdoc at the University of Chicago. For me this was a great opportunity to kick-start my independent research without non-research obligations before the tenure clock was ticking, and to meet and work with new collaborators. I think having had a gap between finishing my PhD and starting the faculty position also allowed me to adjust my perspective, preparing me for the changes in responsibility between those two positions.
  • Over the next few years, I am looking forward to developing my own research group. I am excited to mentor students at all levels and will strive to foster an as inclusive and collaborative team as I had been part of in the past. I am excited to continue my research in all three areas I have worked before, but especially on sequential decision making. And, I look forward to collaborating with my faculty colleagues in the department of stats and act sci, as well as throughout the university.