31 March 2022

Dear {Contact_First_Name},  

“Yes, we were given complimentary RAT tests with our conference satchels, but no, Jodi and I are still well, and we did not have to use them.

As I was writing this sentence in the introduction of last week’s newsletter I only hesitated for a second, thinking: “I should not write this. I’m jinxing things.” But then, I’m not superstitious, am I?

Needless to say that fate decided to teach me a lesson: The following day I started to show symptoms and a PCR test came back positive for COVID-19.

As a result, I’m working reduced hours this week, so I’ll keep this intro short.

Stay safe everyone

Yours sincerely

Marie-Louise Rankin
Executive Officer

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Looking back with our Past Presidents:

Richard Jarrett, President 1989-1991

As a newly-minted PhD, I joined CSIRO in 1973 and promptly became a member of the Victorian Branch of the Statistical Society. 

In those early days, the Society was almost wholly branch-focussed, with each branch keeping their own membership records and collecting fees.  So, while Dennis Trewin and Richard Tweedie were getting the Newsletter started, my job as Circulation Manager was to get the various branch records together to create the list of members who should receive the Newsletter and the Journal!  This was a time when membership lists were typed up on paper with carbon copies rather than kept on a computer.  

Just before I became President, there was great upheaval in the profession, as the Division in CSIRO that housed the mathematicians and statisticians was threatened with disbandment in 1988 and was ultimately vastly reduced in size before its slow recovery under Ron Sandland.  Quite a few senior staff, myself included, left the Division around that time, taking positions in a number of universities. 

I eventually “graduated” to President in 1989, following on from Dennis Trewin.  I have had a look at the Newsletters of the time and it is interesting that most of the Newsletter content is about branch activities, with the occasional paragraph or two at the back about Central Council.  There were a few innovations that began the push towards a more nationally focussed society.  We tried to create more continuity in Central Council by ensuring that any new President served a year on Central Council before becoming President and then stayed on at the end of their term for another year as a sage adviser to the next President. 

We joined a push to form the Australian Mathematical Sciences Council – a peak body for mathematicians, statisticians and mathematics teachers – with the Newsletter reporting that it was “worth the price of one beer per member per year” (I don’t recall who wrote that gem, but I hope it wasn’t me).  The Society became an incorporated body for the first time, thanks to the hard work of Daryl Daley, and encouraged branches to do the same.  There was even a competition to devise a logo for the SSA to be featured on a tie and a scarf, with the winning design by Paul Jackway.  I wonder if any members still have any of these! 

Towards the end of my period as President, we were starting discussions about the accreditation of statisticians.  The Society has always relied heavily on the selfless contributions of a number of people over the years and John Field and Jeff Wood in particular made great contributions during my time as President. 

The Society has made great strides since my time as President, and the development of the accreditation process, and the associated professional development courses are great illustrations of how we have developed into a national society with direction and purpose.

Celebrating 60 years of the SSA: Diamond Jubilee Fellowships

To celebrate 60 years since the formation of the Statistical Society of Australia as a national association of statisticians, in 2022 the Society is offering up to 4 SSA Diamond Jubilee Fellowships, worth up to $5000 each, to help further the careers of our early/mid-career members. These SSA Diamond Jubilee Fellowships are intended to celebrate this Society milestone and to offer a boost to our early/mid-career members whose careers may have been limited by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, eligibility criteria, and to apply, see here. 

Applications close on 28 April 2022.

NSW Branch Lancaster Lecture: A mixing path from theory to application

The fourteenth Lancaster Lecture was presented by Dr. Clara Grazian from the University of Sydney on Wednesday, 23rd March. It was broadcast simultaneously on Zoom. Being an expert in Bayesian methodology, Clara focused her talk on the use of Bayesian mixture model for clustering, which is a common task for exploratory data analysis. A particular challenge in this task is how to estimate the number of clusters, i.e., the number of components for the mixture model. Clara motivated this challenge from a scientific question in astronomy regarding how many stellar populations there are where our galaxy comes from. The current literature provides various answer ranging from 2 to 15. To address this challenge, she introduced several approaches to assigning a prior distribution for the number of clusters and the implications of each approach. Finally, she discussed the results from each approach to the motivating dataset and concluded the talk with some open questions for future research.

Linh Nghiem, University of Sydney

Bill Venables Award for new developers of open source software for data analytics

The Statistical Computing and Visualisation Section is pleased to announce the creation of the Bill Venables award for new developers of open source software for data analytics, sponsored by the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDT). The goal of this award is to encourage new open source software development from the Australian community with a view to support efforts to develop and share data science and statistics methodology.

Developers need to submit their work for consideration, along with a nomination from an SSA member, and the following:

  • A brief description of the importance of the software to data science or statistical practice and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the new contribution compared to existing implementations. Up to 400 words.
  • An installable software product (e.g. package or web app) with its source code for use by the judging panel. It should be accompanied by enough information to allow the judges to effectively use and evaluate the software (including its design considerations).
  • Supporting letters from at least three users, indicating how they use the software and benefits it has provided for their work.

The application deadline is 24 May 2022. More information is available here.

SSA Events

SSA Welcome Event- 31 Mar 2022, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM (AEDT), held online

Please join us at this virtual event where we will welcome new (and old) members to the society.

We have an incredible panel of SSA members lined up to share their diverse perspective and experience of life as a statistician and their involvement with the SSA.

Panel: SSA President Jessica Kasza, Andrew Van Burgel, Lynne Giles, Nan Zou.

For more information and to register click here.

WA Branch event: On Arbitrarily Underdispersed Discrete Distributions, presented by Dr Alan Huang

Tuesday, 12 April 2022,  6:00PM AWST at the Cheryl Praeger Lecture Theatre, The University of Western Australia, and online

We are pleased to host our guest speaker Dr Alan Huang of The University of Queenland.

We review a range of popular generalized count distributions, investigating which (if any) can be arbitrarily underdispersed, i.e., its variance can be arbitrarily small compared to its mean. A philosophical implication is that models failing this criterion perhaps should not be considered a “statistical model” according to the extendibility criterion of McCullagh (2002). Four practical implications will be discussed. We suggest that all generalizations of the Poisson distribution be tested against this property.

Dr Huang has an Honours degree in Science (Advanced Mathematics) from the University of Sydney, and a PhD (Statistics) from the University of Chicago on a McCormick Fellowship. He previously lectured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Technology Sydney, before moving to the University of Queensland where he is currently the Statistics Major Convenor.

Find out more and register here

Other events

Data Science in the News: Post Pandemic - is life just permanently digital?

Post-pandemic, is life just permanently digital? A discussion of Digital

citizenship, safety, communication, well-being and pedagogy.

By QUT Centre for Data Science & Queensland Academy of Arts & Sciences

Friday, 1 April 2022, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM AEST, held online.

Find out more

Check out current job vacancies in SSA's Career Centre here

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