Ph.D. candidate Lindsey Dietz is using statistical data to investigate these key questions about climate change.
In her dissertation research, Dietz is developing and modifying existing statistical techniques for studying the variation and dependencies within climate data. Her research involves several simulation studies and methods applied to real and model-produced data, including case studies of phenomena such as the Atlantic tropical cyclones (hurricanes) and Indian monsoons. Among her findings: Category three and four hurricanes have higher windspeeds and are more potentially destructive than was previously thought.
Dietz’s interest in climate data dates back to an undergraduate research project on the effect of global warming on trees. After learning that her graduate adviser, Snigdhansu Chatterjee, was part of a National Science Foundation grant studying climate change, she was immediately interested in speaking with him.
“Dietz’s work is the best example I know of interdisciplinary scientific research," says Chatterjee. “She uses new and challenging statistics and computer science research problems to better understand physics-related questions about climate … Unraveling climate patterns, variability and change from data is a fascinating challenge, and statistical and machine learning methods are crucial for this," he says.
Dietz has collaborated with people in other fields as well, including an internship with Dr. Patricia Frazier in the psychology department. “[The internship] was a great experience that really opened my eyes to how people are using and understanding statistics in a more realistic setting," she says. Dietz has also done private consulting with students from departments such as economics, family social science and operations management.
Growing up in Elk River, Minnesota, Dietz says she was a "true amalgamation," with her combined love of math, science and sports. Her athletic skill and passion for sports paid off: she attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth on full scholarship for academics and basketball, and received her bachelor's in math.
While completing her master's in applied and computational mathematics at UMD, she was a volunteer assistant coach for the women's basketball team. Dietz graduated -- her thesis an analysis of major league baseball -- and began working as a model validation analyst for U.S. Bank.
After three years of working full-time, Dietz found herself unsatisfied with her career path. She pursued a Ph.D. to expand her knowledge of statistics and explore further career options in academia. "I felt like I still had a lot to learn about statistics," she says. "I knew it was a now or never situation, so I just went for it."
Dietz chose the University of Minnesota’s School of Statistics because of its innovative research and extensive curriculum, the program's balanced approach to teaching statistics, and the varied interests of professors who provide unique perspectives on statistical problems. She received fellowships from statistics department donors, a School of Statistics fellowship and an Eva O. Miller fellowship; through a National Science Foundation Fellowship she taught science and math to K-12 students. Dietz credits this financial support for helping her stay on track to graduate.
"I don't think I've ever worked as hard for something as I will have worked by the time I receive my degree," Dietz says. She appreciates being able to work with people from different cultures and having a close connection to her fellow students and professors. "I have made some wonderful connections throughout my time at the U."
Dietz hopes her work will provide valuable and objective insights into how climate changes can impact humanity. Her research can also inform policymakers on "how to adapt to and mitigate effects of climate change," she says. Her dream career would be in academia and allow her to pursuing teaching, scholarship and consulting – but she's also considering opening up her own consulting firm or managing a group of industry statisticians. "I hope to make significant contributions to statistics regardless of what I choose," she says.
-- Lyra Fontaine