Graduating Ph.D. Student Spotlight: Novin Ghaffari

June 22, 2020 • by the Department of Statistics and Data Sciences

Novin Ghaffari

Ph.D. in Statistics, The University of Texas at Austin (Fall 2019)
M.S. in Statistics, The University of Texas at Austin
B.S. in Math, Plan II, and Finance, The University of Texas at Austin
Dissertation: "Optimal Transportation and Barycenter Problems via Convex Functions"
Dissertation Advisor: Dr. Stephen G. Walker
Research Interests: Mathematical statistics, Bayesian methods, optimal transportation, decision theory, machine learning, optimization

Novin G PhD Spotlight

What does your research focus on? How is it applied?
My research focuses on the application of optimal transport-based methods to statistical inference problems. Optimal transport theory is a subject of mathematics tying several math fields together. As the math theory has developed, people have turned to finding algorithmic applications. One application is to distributed Bayesian computation, i.e. "big-data" Bayesian problems. Another use of the theory is for constructing consensus or ensemble models. Optimal transport methods may also be used for optimal matching or pairing between two sets of objects.

What research-related accomplishment are you most proud of and why? 
In terms of collaboration and application, my favorite accomplishment was the project in distributed inference that I undertook for Sandia National Labs. I was able to offer both a highly flexible method and a highly scalable method to meet their different needs. The project culminated in a series of presentations during a mini-workshop at UT. In terms of theory, I would say a couple of the optimal transport ideas I have worked on with Dr. Walker. They were difficult and interesting problems that expanded our understanding of the field, and we are currently working toward publishing.

What did you do before you entered the SDS Ph.D. program? What brought you to SDS at UT Austin? 
Before SDS, I was a business and honors student at UT. Seeing the increasingly data-driven, quantitative side of business, I wanted to gain background in statistics and quantitative methods.

What is your favorite thing about SDS and/or UT-Austin? What are your post-graduation plans? Congratulations, by the way!
Thank you! My favorite thing about SDS is how helpful and friendly all the staff and professors have been. It goes a long way toward creating a great working atmosphere. In general, I love the campus of UT and the amazing resources (libraries, computing resources, etc.) available to students and faculty. Still working on my post-graduation plans, looking for something that incorporates both professional development and quantitative research.

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