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SDS Student Spotlight - Novin Ghaffari


Novin Ghaffari is a student in the PhD in Statistics program in the Department of Statistics and Data Sciences


Tell us a little about yourself - educational background, work experience, etc.

In high school, my first job was tutoring immigrant children. Since starting at UT, I’ve mainly worked for the Stats department TAing classes. I’ve also done a couple of research projects at UT, one in undergrad through McCombs and one in the graduate program, through SDS. Both projects were with Freescale; the first was on the supply chain/finance side, and the second was interesting problem to do with spatial statistics.


What led you to choose Statistics as your field?

During my undergraduate studies at McCombs, I began realizing the importance of data analysis in the information age. I was fascinated by clever applications of quantitative reasoning to seemingly difficult business policy problems. I also loved the idea that statisticians can apply their quantitative tools to diverse academic fields and get to work on interdisciplinary problems. After taking some more advanced stats classes, a few professors, including Peter Mueller and Carlos Carvalho, encouraged me to apply to graduate programs in the field.

What project/research have you worked on while here at UT?

My research for my doctoral thesis has been in optimal transportation, Wasserstein distances, and their applications to statistics. It’s a very interdisciplinary topic within mathematics and is finding increasing applications in probability and statistics.  Other than that I’ve had a one year research position investigating missingness in instrumental variables models and a one semester research position investigating some statistical models in finance and options pricing.


Who is your role model? In your current field or otherwise:

It is hard to nail just one. Andrey Kolmogorov had an impressive track record in probability theory; he put the subject on a firm theoretical backing, and many results can be traced back to him. Gödel was an amazing logician and mathematician; his incompleteness theorems were monumental in our understanding of the nature of mathematics. I distinguish between an individual’s intellectual achievements and their personal values and character. For instance, Karl Pearson was an amazing thinker who developed many of the rudimentary concepts still used in statistics. He, more-or-less, established statistics as its own field and even had interesting philosophical ideas. That being said he held racist and bigoted views toward various ethnic groups, and he is no role model to me in that sense!

Favorite Food/meal:

Again, hard to choose one. But I’d have to say ‘Ghormeh Sabzi.’ It’s a traditional Persian dish, made with all sorts of sautéed greens (parsley, cilantro, spinach, fenugreek, etc), beans, lemon juice, and some sort of protein; traditionally beef or lamb, but you can substitute chicken or even tofu. I feel like kabobs and seafood should get an honorable mention too.


Favorite book:

I really like many of the classical Persian poets, particularly Khayyam, Rumi, and Hafez. For me, they contain a good mix of artistic expression and reflective philosophy. Goethe’s Faust was an interesting read too. Especially in light of the fact that Goethe had read many of the classical Persian poets, borrowing from their motifs, symbols, and imagery in his masterpiece. In the German city of Weimar today they have a monument of two pillars: one for Goethe and one for Hafez.


If you weren't doing what you are now, what would you be doing?

I would be doing some sort of project. Maybe traveling the world, starting a business, working on a humanitarian cause, or building a garden. I just know I would have to be learning and exploring, whatever I do.


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