Dan Kowal says he is drawn to uncertainty. While an undergraduate he majored in math and pursued a statistics and probability track, which eventually led him to an academic career in statistics.
“I was always interested in applied math,” he said. ”Statistics drew me in because it’s applied math but with the additional twist of dealing with uncertainty, and putting mathematical precision on uncertainty.”
Kowal’s research focuses on developing statistical methodologies for massive data sets with complex dependence structures, including functional, time series and spatial data. Outside of research, he is excited about the increased awareness there is for the field and its many applications.
“It’s becoming accessible to so many more people,” he said. “I think when you start to study statistics you realize how broadly applicable it is, but it doesn’t mean people are interested in using statistical methods. It’s something people are becoming more open to and seek out on their own.”
In 2017 Kowal earned his Ph.D. in statistical science, with a minor in finance, from Cornell University. He received a B.A. in mathematics from Washington University in St. Louis in 2012 and a master’s degree in statistics from Cornell in 2015. He started at Rice in July 2017.
Rice has always been on his radar. “Dr. Ensor actually gave a talk at Cornell while I was there,” he said. “Rice is in an exciting city, with really strong students and strong faculty collaboration.”
Kowal said life in academia has been very rewarding thus far, providing him opportunities to explore new and intriguing applications and topics.
“I was always interested in doing research, and going one step deeper and further in whatever problem was presented,” he said. “Academia is a place where that action is rewarded. It gives you the freedom to go as broad or as deep as you want in a topic, and that is really appealing.”
“The best statistics comes from good applications, and so I am always looking for new applications, new areas of interests, and new projects to work on,” he said.
He is looking forward to working with students, particularly undergraduates.
“I’ve heard so many good things about the undergrads here,” he said. “I’m excited to see how they react to new material and what kinds of interesting and challenging questions they can come up with.”
Kowal is also excited to see how students will affect the trajectory of the courses he teaches.
“You can learn a lot about your teaching based on the questions students ask, and getting that kind of feedback at a place like Rice is pretty valuable.”
Jennifer Hunter, Engineering Communications