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Focus on Faculty: Yi Lu

“It’s very rewarding to show students—many of whom think statistics is difficult and boring—the fun and useful side of statistics”

January 2023 – Drew University’s Yi Lu, Norma Gilbert Junior Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, joined us for our Focus on Faculty series, where we highlight the accomplishments, research, and scholarship of Drew’s faculty members.

We sat down with Lu to discuss the creative and fun (yes, fun!) side of statistics, growing opportunities for women in STEM, and more.

What led you to become a professor of mathematics and computer science?
My background is in statistics, and I chose this field because it provides a way for me to understand the world from a quantitative perspective. I double-majored in mathematics and history as an undergraduate. I wanted to go to graduate school, but couldn’t decide what field to go into. I ultimately decided that statistics is a perfect “middle ground” between mathematics and the humanities. It is also a perfect field for indecisive people like me because it offers tools and can be applied to many research fields—from social sciences to physics, sports to finance.

Women are breaking barriers in landing careers in the typically male-dominated world of STEM. How has the field changed in the recent past and do you see continued opportunities for women in the field?
Yes! There are so many opportunities for women in STEM! I think there are increasingly more discussions and awareness of the gender imbalance. With the rise of AI in the fields of computer science and data analytics, people realize that even computer programs can be discriminatory if there is a lack of diversity among the programmers who design these programs. Unfortunately, women are still very under-represented in some of the areas that are considered more technical, but this also means that these fields really welcome women participants.

What advice can you give your students aspiring to achieve careers in STEM?
Be confident. You’ll probably be surrounded by very intelligent people who are passionate about complicated, advanced, and technical stuff. It’s very normal to have imposter syndrome from time to time, but ultimately, it’s not about “who is smarter,” but rather, it’s about collaborating and learning from each other.

Be open-minded. Fields like computer science and data science tend to be very fast paced (an app or a technology like facial recognition or wireless payment from two years ago can feel ancient). It’s essential (and fun!) to stay tuned to the latest trends and developments in your field. Don’t hesitate to try something new. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, you’ll always learn something along the way. 

What courses are your favorite to teach?
My favorite courses to design and teach are the ones that are the most related to my research, like Bayesian Statistics and Modeling and Simulation. These courses are also very “non-traditional” and interdisciplinary, which means I can include current and fun topics, like simulating the spread of Covid and predicting NBA player’s free throw success rate. I’ve also grown to really enjoy teaching Introductory Statistics. It’s very rewarding to show students—many of whom think statistics is difficult and boring—the fun and useful side of statistics.