Jun 27, 2018

XL-Files: BFF and BGF for IMS

Xiao-Li Meng writes:

BFF again? Yes, and this time it is for Best Friends Forever, not another Bayesian, Fiducial and Frequentist workshop – for that you need to wait until BFF6. [For BFF# history, see http://bulletin.imstat.org/2017/05/xl-files-bayesian-fiducial-and-frequentist-bff4ever/.] But what on Earth is BGF? Best Goal Forever (FIFA time)? Best Glass Forever (Zalto)? Well, read on…

At the end of my de-deaning year (if you ever care about its beginning, check http://bulletin.imstat.org/2017/10/xl-files-isipta-ecsqaru-bfas-smps-whoa-psi/), my ego inevitably wants to bracket the five-year (2012–17) adventure, and all the milestones and millstones that came with it, with a pair of quotable quotation marks. The open quotation came almost from day one, when there were enough curious minds inquiring “Why do you want to be a dean?” My answer paraphrases an ice-breaker for academic remarks: “There are three reasons to be a professor: June, July, and August.” I say, there are three reasons to be a graduate school dean: students, students, and students.

Knowing well that by repeating three times does not turn an assertion into a fact—a fact that itself increasingly needs to be asserted—I supplied that opening line at a reception for the new dean, with a selfish reason. “Where do you find another profession with an annual supply of some of the best young talents from all over the world, to become your best friends for life?” I of course was referring to the profession of scholarly advising, as I have been blessed with a trail of extraordinary students. A good number of them have become trusted friends and colleagues, who enrich me not only as a scholar but also as a person. Being a graduate school dean provided me with a larger platform to express my gratitude in potentially more impactful ways, from enhancing the admission process, to enriching professional development, and to enlarging the alumni network. The five-year adventure taught me that much can be accomplished when many—faculty, staff, and alumni—share the goal of attracting more extraordinary talents globally and providing concrete support to them, as they contemplate their future and launch their careers.

As I was contemplating my own future (and a new career?), I was reminded again of the extraordinary creativity of our students, and this time by two graduation presents. My students have been versatile in their choices of presents, and each of them brings me a fond, often nostalgic, memory of some inspirational and intoxicating moments, from re-heating a half-baked idea, to re-filling a half-full glass. But as much as I was prepared to be inspired again, I was literally lost for words during this graduation, not once, but twice.

The first present arrived in a large but relatively light box. Knowing how poetic the sender is—yes, data and poetry are superfecundation twins in their elusive way of expressing meaning—my initial guess was a decanter of some artistic form, aiming to remind me simultaneously that great ideas take time to evolve, and that aging is an art and can be intoxicating. “Open the box first!” the envelope of the accompanying note reads. So I did. What on Earth was this fancy container for??? The answer came at the end of a four-page handwritten note, which ended with the penultimate paragraph: “Here is me trying to be helpful, with my statistical training finally coming in handy. We know that, to obtain an extreme value, one draws many, rids most, and keeps one—the greatest one. For the greatness of what one willfully disposes attests to the greater-ness of what one retains.”

Enough of a clue? Ready to be as speechless as I was? OK, here comes the eagerly anticipated treasure:

“So, to my dear advisor and his budding future career: May your wastebasket ever be filled with great ideas!”

Just as I became convinced that had to be my Best Gift Forever (BGF), I received a smaller and lighter box from another newly minted PhD. This time, I am still seeking words to describe what was inside. Fortunately, a picture [below] says more than my zero words (go ahead and put voices in my bobblehead/bubblehead!).

However, the declaration that BFF is BGF should be a resounding one, for individuals and for institutions. Surely a BGF for IMS is if those of us blessed with advising roles would do everything we can to attract many more young BFFs (pun intended) to the society, and to support them to lead in laying the foundations of Data Science using their talents and creativity in statistics and probability.

It is with these goals in mind that I am looking forward to my “budding” IMS presidency!



A gift that left Xiao-Li lost for words…


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