Irina Gaynanova, Statistical Science PhD Student

Student Name: Irina Gaynanova

Affiliation: Ph.D. Student in the Department of Statistical Science at Cornell University

Research Focus: high-dimensional data analysis

Hometown: Moscow, Russia

Why did you choose Cornell?

When deciding where to pursue my Ph.D., I've talked with two Ph.D. Students from Cornell: one from the department of Statistical Science and one from the Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. Both of them shared their positive experience with Cornell as well as with living in Ithaca. I was attracted by the variety of courses that Cornell offers and the fact that you can take classes outside of your field. The abundance of the available resources on campus was also a contributing factor.

Why are doing a PhD in Statistics? What brought you to the field and made you decide to continue through graduate studies?

Even from my childhood I have always been interested in gaining as much knowledge as I can, to the point that when I was younger my favorite books were encyclopedias.  I was interested in everything, from ancient history and literature to space exploration and modern inventions, however my math skills were always the strongest. I wanted to work in a field that provides analytical challenges but at the same time allows me to explore the variety of disciplines. Statistics miraculously combined both.

After finishing my undergraduate studies in Applied Mathematics and Computer Scince as well as working professionally as a statistician for two years, I have become convinced that there is a growing need for individuals with a strong statistical background. I also have become convinced that pursuing a Ph.D. in Statistics will be the best way to achieve my desired level of success.

What did you want to know about Cornell before you came here? What about the Statistics department specifically drew you to Cornell?

Statistics always fascinated me as a field that allows you to collaborate with scientists from many different subject areas. Most of the faculty in the Department of Statistical Science have joint appointments with other departments at Cornell and as such there are a lot of opportunities for cross-disciplinary research.  In addition, the size of the program is small in comparison to the number of faculty members which allows a lot of flexibility in choosing the research topic as well as more individualized development of graduate students. Though I knew that the Department of Statistics at Cornell had a good reputation from a research perspective, I was also interested in knowing more about the department culture to see if it will be a good fit. Fortunately, I had a friend who was already in the program and he assured me that the Department provides a friendly collaborative environment as well as continuous support for students' research. During my three years at Cornell, I found that assurance to be absolutely true.

What research projects are you working on?

Currently I am working on a classification method that can be applied to high-dimensional data sets. These data sets often come from the medical studies and I have a particular interest in statistical application in genetics.  The data set that I currently analyze comes from a drug discovery study, where different types of antibiotics have been administered to several patients and multiple biological responses were measured afterwards. The data set is provided by Weill Cornell Medical College. It is of interest to find how the antibiotics differ with respect to the biological responses, however it is believed that not all of the responses are relevant. Moreover, the relatively small sample size provides additional challenges for  the standard statistical analysis and as such the development of new techniques is needed. We are working on a classification method that can address these problems and our first results are encouraging.

In addition to this project, I currently collaborate with a graduate student from Plant Breeding on developing a classification method for rice subpopulations.

Who is your advisor/s and how has he or she influenced your educational experience?

I am very fortunate to be co-advised by both Prof. James Booth and Prof. Martin Wells. In addition to their guidance on relevant coursework and research projects, they  support me in my teaching as well as share their experience on sucessfull research practices, including advice on academic writing. At the same time they make sure I learn how to do independent research on my own, always willing to provide me with additional references if needed. Their consistent support and guidance is invaluable to me.

What other activities are you involved in around campus or around Ithaca?

I am currently in charge of organizing Statistics Student Seminars that provide informal opportunities for students to discuss their research interests as well as learn about new topics. In addition, Cornell provides a great selection of fitness classes and currently I am taking yoga which helps me relax and take a break during the day. When the weather is nice, I enjoy being outside and go hiking. Ithaca has a lot of state parks with beautiful scenery.

What has been your greatest moment or accomplishment so far at Cornell?

Several months ago I've submitted my first paper co-authored with my advisors Prof. James Booth and Prof. Martin Wells. This paper summarized the research I've done for  the first two years in Cornell and it feels amazing to have a first finished research project. Apart from research, I have been a Teaching Assistant for Statistical Methods I and II for several years and it is always great to hear students from my lab comment later that they enjoyed the class and that Statistics is finally making sense for them. To me, this is the greatest reward for my teaching.