The Department of Statistics at Rice University was founded in 1987 in the School of Social Sciences, and in 1990 moved to the School of Engineering. In 1996, Statistics moved from Herman Brown Hall to the new computational engineering building, Duncan Hall, where it is located today. Initially, the Department consisted of four core faculty, seven joint faculty and eight adjunct faculty, with a graduate student body of fifteen students. The department has grown to a core faculty of nine, nine joint faculty and fourteen adjunct faculty, with a graduate student body of 105 students and 70 undergraduate students.

The founding chair of the Department of Statistics was James R. Thompson and the first faculty members were David Scott and Sean Chiu. David Scott served as the second chair. The initial joint members of the department were Joe Austin, Bill Brown, Robin Sickles, David Lane, Rick Wilson and John Brelsford. Throughout the history of the department, our joint members have contributed significantly to the research as well as education to help fulfill the mission of the department. Also of key importance in these early stages were the contributions of our adjunct faculty. The initial adjunct faculty members were Neely Atkinson, Barry Brown, Stuart Zimmerman, Howard Thames, Allen White of the MD Anderson Cancer Center and Tom Downs and Ralph Frankowski of the University of Texas School of Public Health. Diane Brown served as the departmental coordinator from its founding until she retired in 2005.

james thompson
James R. Thompson, founding chair of the Department of Statistics, with some of our first faculty members.

The department grew out of almost two decades of research and educational activities in statistics at Rice, a firm basis on which it now stands. Katherine B. Ensor, the fifth chair of the department, was the first hire of the new department. Marek Kimmel joined the department three years after its inception and Dennis Cox joined two years later. Marek Kimmel served as the department's fourth chair. During those early years, the Department was fortunate to have visitors Matt Wand, Jacek Koranacki and Jack Tubbs as long-term visitors.

During Ensor’s tenure as chair, the core faculty expanded to include Rudy Guerra, Peter Olofsson, Rudolf Riedi, Javier Rojo, Janet Seifert and Marina Vannucci. Olofsson and Rojo have left and are currently chairs at Trinity University and the University of Nevada-Reno. David Scott returned to be the sixth chair in 2013, and Marina Vannucci is the seventh chair, since 2014.

The department's primary research areas are nonparametric function estimation, functional data analysis, stochastic processes (including branching processes, time series and spatial-temporal processes), survival analysis, computational statistics and Bayesian methods. Current key application areas include bioinformatics and statistical genetics, biostatistics, biomedical imaging, computational finance, environmental statistics and homeland defense.

As the department has grown so have the opportunities to expand graduate student offerings. In 2000, the Department launched its subprogram in bioinformatics as well as a joint PhD program in biostatistics with the MD Anderson Cancer Center. The department co-founded the interdisciplinary Center for Computational Finance and Economic Systems in 2002, which helps to advance our focus area in computational finance for the graduate program.

Throughout the history of the department, Monday lunches with faculty, visitors, graduate and undergraduate students have helped to build community and foster close collaborative relationships between faculty and students. These weekly lunches have been possible due to the generous gifts of key contributors to the department. Their support has also helped us maintain computing resources for students and faculty and with provide travel support for students to conferences.

Contributors to the Department

  • Marian and Speros Martel Foundation, Inc.
  • Edward M. and Gertrude W. Swartz Charitable Trust
  • IMSL, Inc. currently Visual Numerics, Inc. (VNI), formerly IMSL Inc.
  • Baker Oil Tools
  • United Airlines
  • Pros Strategic Solutions, Inc.

Department Chairs

  • 2019-present: Rudy Guerra
  • 2014-19: Marina Vannucci
  • 2013-14: David W. Scott
  • 1999-2013: Katherine Bennett Ensor
  • 1996-99: Marek Kimmel
  • 1993-96: James R. Thompson
  • 1990 -93: David W. Scott
  • 1987-90: James R. Thompson