Why Outside Academia

In conjunction with a recent award, I was asked the question, "Why did you decide to take your statistics work outside of academia?" My answer was the following:
Most of my early research was quite specialised and mathematical. In some ways it was very satisfying, but it was hard to discuss with people I met at parties. I found myself thinking that there must be some way to reach a wider audience, beyond just specialists. Around that time, one of my in-laws suggested that I write a book about probabilities for the general public, and she put me in touch with a literary agent. The next thing I knew, I had a contract, and I had to start writing!

I found it very challenging to write for such a different audience than my usual. I couldn't assume that they had any knowledge of, or interest in, mathematics, but I still had to try to make it interesting and engaging. To my surprise, the result was a big success: my book Struck By Lightning made some bestseller lists, got published in many different countries, and received very favourable reviews.

From there, things snowballed. I did lots of media interviews. I got invited to give talks to all sorts of different groups. I even got to do the statistical analysis exposing the Lottery Retailer Scandal, which became front-page news and had major impact.

Unexpectedly, my public outreach in turn got me involved in a number of interdisciplinary research projects. Statistics has applications to many areas, and with my higher profile I ended up collaborating with academics from such diverse areas as Economics, Business, Criminology, Climatology, Law, Education, and Speech Pathology, thus taking my research in many new and interesting directions.

Most recently, I have just written a second general-interest book called Knock On Wood, which tries to make sense of the elusive concept of "luck", and I am busy giving presentations about that book now.

Whether I'm writing for a general audience, or doing media interviews, or giving public talks, or collaborating on diverse research applications, moving outside of my usual academic environment has been very exciting for me, and has led to all sorts of new projects and activities involving all different kinds of people. And really, what's not to love about that?

-- Jeffrey Rosenthal, February 2019

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