Statisticians at smaller Canadian universities face distinct challenges, such as isolation and a lack of resources. Now they have a voice dedicated to articulating their needs within CANSSI.
The voice belongs to Wesley Burr, who was confirmed in the newly created position of Associate Director for Smaller Institutions at the CANSSI Board of Directors meeting in March.
Wesley is an Associate Professor of Statistics (and Chair of Department) in the Department of Mathematics at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. He highlighted one important qualification for the role in his application: “When I was hired at Trent, I was the only trained (at even the master’s level) statistician on the entire campus. I remain the only such statistician in either a permanent or a research role on campus.”
He described his situation like this: “I see myself as a prototypical ‘isostat’—a lone statistician, toiling away at a smaller institution, doing everything I can to train up another generation of statistics professionals, and contributing to the pursuit of science.”
He noted that although he lacked the community of fellow statisticians found at larger institutions, his situation also provided him with opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration—an important CANSSI emphasis.
A Multi-faceted Vision
Wesley expressed a number of hopes for his new role: “I’m very interested in the problem of teaching statistics well, and would love to see brought to fruition CANSSI’s […] stated goal of developing high-quality educational aids and potentially entire courses for the use of the Canadian community. Specifically, I would also like to see CANSSI have any role in the life of statisticians at smaller institutions.”
He identified places having “no statisticians with any research presence whatsoever” as another priority: “This represents an untapped world of potential scientific collaborators who could really use the expertise CANSSI represents, and I’d very much like to see that community recognized and given a chance to contribute to, and benefit from, CANSSI’s existence and programming.”
Wesley received a BScEng in Mathematics and Engineering in 2005 from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and a PhD in Statistics in 2012 from the same institution, working under David J. Thomson. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Queen’s University from January to May 2013 and then held a Visiting Fellowship at Health Canada from June 2013 to March 2016.
His research focuses on problems at the intersection of time series analysis, spectrum estimation, and modelling, with current research focused on problems coming from environmental epidemiology. He is grateful for funding from both NSERC’s Discovery Grant program and federal agencies Health Canada, Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, and Natural Resources Canada.
He views his CANSSI role as a chance to serve the statistics community.
“The work needs to be done. And seeing work done well is a great reward […] If I can contribute in a meaningful way, and leave the community better off than when I began, that’s the victory. Small institutions, and statisticians at those places, deserve a seat at the table, and I think I can represent them in an effective manner.”