ISB Updates

Professor Galit Shmueli wins The Greenfield Challenge Award

Galit Shmueli, the SRITNE Chaired Professor of Data Analytics and Associate Professor of Statistics and Information Systems at the Indian School of Business (ISB) was recently awarded the Greenfield Challenge Award. Launched in 2010, as an ongoing activity of European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics (ENBIS), this award lauds statisticians who have demonstrated the ability to highlight their work to an audience of primarily non-statisticians. The School congratulates Professor Shmueli and applauds her effort in popularising statistics. Recently, we wrote to her to understand what this award means to her and also about her pet project – popularising statistics. Following is the transcript of the questions and answers. You can view images from the award ceremony here.

Congrats on the Greenfield Challenge Award! It must be hard to evangelise statistics to non-statisticians.
Thanks. Indeed challenging although I have had my feet in these non-statistician waters for some time now, so have learned some tricks!

Has the award met its objective of highlighting statistics to the not-so-inclined?
Do you mean has my (winning) submission had an impact? I think it did. Please view the slides that I used to present my submission -- The two winners each had 10 minutes to describe their endeavor during ENBIS 2012. The last slide describes the impact of the keynote address. Other results were keen interest by quite a few people in the audience in Business Analytics programs at ISB.

What are your thoughts on most people’s reaction toward statistics? Is there a change in people’s perception toward statistics?
The best thing that has happened to the field of statistics is the hot buzzword "Analytics." In many countries, the word "statistics" conjures up a memory of a very difficult and sometimes boring class. When I meet someone and they ask what I do, if I say "Professor of Statistics" the result is often a frozen or puzzled look. Of course, there are exceptions who say, “Oh! I took statistics in my studies, and loved it!” Analytics is sexier because it conveys the reality of data and the need to use analytic methods to make fact-based decisions. When you come to statistics from the motivating ground of “we have data, what to do with it?” then statistics is much more compelling, fun, and logical.

How do you feel about the award? Is this an indication that you will be working harder toward taking statistics to the general public?
I have been working on disseminating statistical thinking for over a decade: I first taught statistics to engineers and then moved to the even more challenging arena of business students and professionals. In addition, I have many non-statistician research collaborators. These have led me into developing a different approach for teaching and communicating statistical and data mining thinking. You cannot just understand the math or technical aspects. You have to understand the logic of it and how it fits into reality. My colleagues and students challenge me with “why?” not only with “how to?”

Moving to the “general public” is indeed an even more difficult step. I have taken on two initiatives in this direction: First, in 2011 I've created the "Practical Analytics" textbook series. These books are intended for non-statisticians and are very hands-on, so that readers get the feel of doing statistics within the real world. My second endeavour is offering various short courses to professionals in the government, corporate and private sectors in Bhutan. Attendees have no background in statistics whatsoever. I introduce notions such as data visualization, risk, variability and uncertainty in a practical and (hopefully) human-understandable way.

I just celebrated the sale of the 1000th copy of a Practical Analytics book and am running a "free eBook" promotion next week.