Teaching statement

The reason I chose to follow a career of a college professor is that I can combine my love to discover new things – research – and my passion to share my knowledge with others – teaching.

I started teaching in 1995 at Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. I taught a recitation section of a calculus-based service course in statistics. After coming to Michigan State University in 1996 I was a graduate teaching assistant and gained teaching experience as an instructor of several introductory statistics courses. After becoming a faculty member at Colorado State University in 2000 I taught mainly graduate courses designed for MS and PhD students in statistics. Since 2008 I have been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I believe that when teaching a difficult technical subject, it is important not only to convey information in an understandable manner but also show true enthusiasm for the subject. Only someone truly interested and consistently passionate about a subject can expect students to get excited as well. Knowing this, I try to communicate not only knowledge but also show my emotion toward statistics and probability during every lecture I teach. Indeed, my Carolina course evaluations consistently show that over 90% of students strongly agreed or agreed with the statement “The instructor showed enthusiasm for the subject matter”. I believe that statistics is best learned by doing and not listening. Therefore, I strive to assign challenging homework sets that help students to reach for deeper understanding of the main ideas covered in class.

Modern science is moving forward quickly and therefore it is important to keep the material that is taught in classes up to date with the developments in the field. This means periodically updating the material covered in the classes I teach. In collaboration with other faculty, we have completely redesigned our mathematical statistics courses, both on the undergraduate and PhD level. The main goal of the redesign was to make sure that the topics covered are both important and relevant to modern research and practice. The work on modernizing content of courses is never truly done and I plan to continually review the content of my course in the future.

At the University of North Carolina incoming undergraduate students are encouraged to participate in first year seminars that provide them with an engaging introduction into some research active field. I developed a first year seminar “Adventures in Statistics”. During the seminar we discuss the role of statistics and data in society aided by several statistics-related movies. We investigate probability with the view of understanding game of chance. Finally, we discuss reasoning with data with the help of computer simulations instead of mathematical formulas. In addition to all of this, the seminar provides a basic introduction to a statistical programing language, R.

One of the things that makes graduate education special is the one-on-one interaction between a student and his/her dissertation advisor. As opposed to classroom teaching, advising allows the advisor to personally mentor a student into an independent researcher. For that reason, I see advising as both an important and the most enjoyable part of my role as a faculty member. My personal philosophy is to treat my advisees as colleagues. Therefore, I really treasure the opportunity to shape the way they think about problems while always learning something new about myself in the process. In addition to mathematical and statistical skills, I work with my students on written and oral communication skills as well as answer any questions about work life balance and other intangible parts of the academic job my students might have.

To date I was fortunate to oversee as an advisor or co-advisor the successful completion of 20 PhD students and additional 5 students are currently working on their PhDs. I have also advised 10 MS theses and 5 undergraduate research projects. About a half of my doctoral students work in academia or research-intensive government laboratories. Among the ones who went to industry, they have data scientist positions at companies such as Facebook, SAS, Oracle, UBS, Prudential, and Mayo Clinic.

I also strongly believe that as human beings we have a responsibility to give back to the society at large. One way I have chosen to do so is by teaching masters level statistics courses in Cambodia. Cambodia is a country with a very sad history. The brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge eliminated most of the highly educated people during their brief rule at the end of 1970s. Consequently, even today Cambodia has an acute shortage of faculty qualified to teach high-level statistics and mathematics courses. I volunteered to teach in a newly created MS program in mathematics at the Royal University of Phnom Penh through a volunteer lecturer program. As a part of the program I traveled four times to Phnom Penh to teach an advanced statistics course. I also remotely advised MS projects of two Cambodian students.

As a full professor, I strive to be an effective teacher and advisor. I view teaching and advising as rewarding parts of an academic career and I will work continuously to improve myself.


copyright © Jan Hannig, designed by JanAltonDesign, 2008