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Yao Fang: Statistical research is my career and lifelong pursuit

APR . 12 2019
Peking University, April 12, 2019: After working in the United States and Canada for 16 years, Professor Yao Fang returned to China and he is now working at the Center for Statistical Science, Peking University. Even at PKU, Professor Yao is one of the most talented student. At the age of 24, he completed both his MSc and his Ph.D. in three years. When he was 29, Professor Yao was promoted to tenure professor at the Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Toronto. Turning to 35, he received the CRM-SSC Prize, which recognizes a statistical scientist’s professional accomplishments in research, during the first 15 years after earning a doctorate.


Professor Yao 

Professor Yao has made many influential contributions to the development of statistics. Now he is the editor for Canadian Journal of Statistics, associate editor for Statistica Sinica, Journal of the American Statistical Association, Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics.

When talking about his achievements, Yao stressed that he was just a particularly curious scientist. “When I was a kid, I was attracted by the medical records compiled by statistical methods in the hospital where my mother works. What convenience the statistics bring to us! And the study at the University of Science and Technology in China made me realize this subject has both depth and breadth. It is really interesting to be able to seek the laws in a bunch of random events and help solve practical problems.”

Later, because China's statistics subject at that time was still underdeveloped, Yao chose to study abroad, which expanded his horizons. “Concentrating on research enabled me to find my goal---taking statistical research as my career and lifelong pursuit.”

The core of statistics is the combination of methods and practical problems, Yao said.

“Data science serves the needs of society and science, which is also the main reason why I chose it.” Currently, one of the issues Yao Fang focuses on is brain imaging, which is traditionally regarded as a subject of medicine or biology. In fact, as research progresses, brain imaging also requires scholars form various disciplines to contribute their own ways of thinking and professional results.

“It may be a sense of responsibility and belonging that prompts me to return to China. I feel very proud that I can work with the best platform to promote the construction of PKU’s statistics department cultivate more talents for my homeland.”

During the interview, Yao told us he was deeply impressed by China's investment in research and education in recent years. In his view, the country's strong support is important in the continuous enhancement of China's scientific research strength. “We should be confident about our strength in science and research. Some people hold that a foreign-trained PhD is better than a local one. In fact, we have many top scholars in the world teaching at PKU. The excellent talents have a promising prospect in China.”

As a teacher, Professor Yao is very concerned about the growth of students. In Yao’s view, education should follow the principle of teaching students in accordance with their aptitude. It is an important task for teachers to value each student's strengths and fully explore their academic potential. He encourages students who are interested in research to join in the practice of scientific research as soon as possible. He agrees with the “3+X” seminars recently opened by the School of Mathematical Sciences. In the seminar, undergraduates can learn about the latest academic progress, develop new ideas and prepare for the real scientific research.


Professor Yao discussing with students in the seminar

“Scientific research is a very interesting thing. It is suitable for people who have a strong internal drive for science. This internal drive will empower you perseverance, boost your enthusiasm and help resist loneliness. At the same time, carrying out research can give you a sense of achievement.” At the end of interview, Yao expressed his hope that people can work together with their like-minded research partners in an attempt to benefit the country and society in the field of statistics and data science.

Written by: Yan Congcong
Edited by: Wang Xi & Wang Qian
Source: PKU News (Chinese)