A Tribute to Kathryn Chaloner

The following was written by SAMSI director Richard Smith and former Deputy Director, Snehalata Huzurbazar.

Kathryn Chaloner

Kathryn Chaloner

We were very saddened to learn of the death of Kathryn Chaloner on October 19.

One of us (Richard) knew Kathryn for over forty years, since we were both undergraduate students of Mathematics in Oxford University. In Oxford, each student is a member of one of more than thirty colleges, which are all mixed up by subject of study but which still were, at the time we entered, segregated by sex. But, of course, there were lots of social interactions between the men’s and women’s colleges. Also, at that time Statistics was very much a minority interest within the university Mathematics curriculum, so we were two of rather a small number of students attending the advanced Statistics lectures. Thus we got to know each other both professionally and socially.

At that time, it was still rather unusual for British students to come to the U.S. to pursue graduate study, but Kathryn and I both did, in my case at Cornell (where my classmates included Luke Tierney), while Kathryn went to Carnegie Mellon where she completed a Ph.D. under the late Morrie De Groot. By this time, Luke had become an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon, and he and Kathryn were married shortly afterwards.

Kathryn and Luke then continued their careers at the University of Minnesota, where Kathryn’s first student was Merlise Clyde, now Chair of Statistical Science at Duke (there ought to be a theorem about social networks somewhere here) and Kathryn built up an outstanding reputation in several research fields including Bayesian design of experiments, Bayesian approaches to outliers and residuals, clinical trials, and models for the HIV epidemic.

In 2002, Kathryn and Luke both moved to the University of Iowa where Kathryn became Head of the Department of Biostatistics, a position she continued to hold until her death. As her career developed, she became more and more concerned with issues related to mentoring of students and junior faculty, especially women and minorities, activities for which she was awarded the prestigious Elizabeth L. Scott award at the 2014 Joint Statistical Meetings. Amongst numerous other activities that this award recognized, she was cited for her engagement with the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences, which is a network of faculty mentors at mostly undergraduate colleges to identify underrepresented minorities with the potential to earn doctoral degrees. For the past several years, Kathryn was Chair of the Statistics Initiative within the Alliance. In this connection, she became an effective advocate for women and minorities (and more generally, for all US-born students) in graduate programs in Statistics.

Our SAMSI connection with her arose from this work; a connection which started when the other of us (Snehalata) read an article by Kathryn in the IMS Bulletin and immediately contacted her. A year and half later, last June, we hosted the workshop “Recruiting and Retaining Graduate Students in the Statistical Sciences and Applied Mathematics”, which was designed for graduate program directors and faculty seeking to increase numbers of U.S. students and underrepresented minorities in their graduate programs. Presentations included one from Kathryn herself on comparing diversity in graduate Statistics and Mathematics programs, and sessions on such themes as “transition from a minority undergraduate institution to a majority research institution” and “best practices for mentoring Ph.D. students.” There had been previous workshops aimed at improving diversity in Mathematics graduate programs, but this was the first such workshop targeted primarily at Statistics and Biostatistics programs, and, of course, the first at SAMSI. It would never have come about without Kathryn’s energy and persistence. SAMSI hopes to continue the effort in the future, for example by hosting further workshops of a similar nature.

Kathryn Chaloner was a brilliant researcher but one whose contributions to the profession went well beyond her research. We extend our sincere condolences to Luke, their children Graham and Patrick, and other members of her family.

Richard Smith and Snehalata Huzurbazar

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