Research Scientist in the Statistical Sciences Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, U.S.A.

Christine Anderson-CookIf the thought of working in statistics on applied problems is appealing, then I think there is no better choice than UWaterloo. The learning environment in the Faculty of Mathematics at UWaterloo is very special – there is a breadth of topics to be explored, and opportunities to get involved in research projects with some very talented faculty members.

- Christine Anderson-Cook, BMath '89, Ph.D. (Statistics) '94

1. How has attending the University of Waterloo and studying within the Faculty of Mathematics impacted your career?

Graduating from UWaterloo opened doors for me immediately. I had faculty job offers from multiple universities, and was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario right after graduation. When I moved to the United States and was hired by Virginia Tech, the University of Waterloo’s reputation for excellence was well known. My studies at UWaterloo gave me the confidence to tackle research problems in many areas of statistics and to collaborate broadly with researchers in many different areas, including industrial and civil engineering, geology, agronomy, chemistry and food sciences. This diversity has made my working experience varied and very exciting! Taking challenging courses at UWaterloo allowed me to step up to new professional and research challenges with confidence and enthusiasm.

2. Why did you choose the University of Waterloo for graduate studies?

Being a part of the only Faculty of Mathematics in Canada was an excellent match for the emphasis that the university and I gave to Mathematics. The faculty members in the Department of Statistics & Actuarial Sciences were and are known as world-class researchers in the area of applied statistics. Having completed my Bachelor of Mathematics in the department, I knew how welcoming the department was and what a wonderful study environment it was. Even now, 20 years after graduating, I have connections to faculty members in the department and follow their research.

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3. How does your degree support the work you are doing now?

In my graduate courses I was taught to think creatively and problem-solve. These skills have enabled me to have an impact in many research areas. Many graduate programs emphasize theory, but at UWaterloo I learned how the theory should be applied to real world problems. Having that grounding in practical applications makes learning more relevant and interesting. My work at Los Alamos National Laboratory is all about tackling difficult problems where finding the right solution has the potential for very high impact! Having a broad understanding of science and the role that mathematics and statistics can plan in it has lead to leadership opportunities for me to coordinate large projects with collaborators from many diverse disciplines. Nothing is more exciting than advancing research areas where the consequences of those advances lead to real change.

4. What advice would you give to students who are considering attending the University of Waterloo for graduate studies?

As you take your required classes, get to know the faculty and their areas of research expertise since finding a good match of your interests to the right advisor will allow you to launch your career in a direction that you find truly exciting.  Having said that, there are many exciting areas of research that you may not even know about as you start your studies, so be open to exploring new areas too.

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5. What advice would you give to current students who are studying at the graduate level and looking to enter the workforce within the next few years?

Take a breadth of courses and don’t specialize too soon, as the background that you build during your graduate studies becomes the cornerstone of your knowledge that you can leverage throughout your career! Focus not only on the material in the courses, but also think about how you can apply what you learn to real problems – the ability to apply knowledge to real problem-solving is a highly sought after talent. Start honing those skills as soon as you can!

Start volunteering early – not only will a well-rounded resume that shows involvement and contributions in different areas help distinguish you from other job applicants, but starting to volunteer with national/international organizations (such as the Statistical Society of Canada, the American Statistical Association or the American Society for Quality) helps you to see the diversity of your chosen discipline and what interesting work is being done. The sooner that you see yourself as a leader and feel comfortable in that role, the more opportunities you will have in your career. Find opportunities to present your work early and often – the feedback you receive will be valuable, and it is an excellent way to connect with others in your area.

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Affiliation: 
University of Waterloo