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Member Spotlight: From Uncertainty to Certainty

1 December 2010 One Comment
Martha M. Gardner, GE Global Research



I love being a statistician, but statistics wasn’t my original career choice. When I went to The University of Alabama, I majored in math because I was good at it, but I also majored in classical languages because I received language credit based on AP and placement scores. By the time I was a senior, I wasn’t even sure I liked math anymore. My Latin and Greek classes were much more interesting, so I decided to study classics in graduate school.

My Latin adviser told me he thought I would be a great Latin professor, but many universities were shutting down classics departments. He said since I had talent in math, I should focus on that. When I told him I didn’t like math as much, he said I must not have found the right math yet and urged me to check out the statistics program in the business school.

My first discussion was with Bill Woodall. He convinced me to add two statistics classes to my last semester of undergraduate classes. A few weeks into the semester, I knew my Latin adviser was right—I just needed to find the right math, and statistics was it!

On my way to a graduate degree in statistics, I thought I wanted to be an actuary, so I started taking exams. The first two were fine, but when I showed up for the third, I was the only student there. Everyone else was already working as an actuary, and I had never seen such a stressed out bunch of folks.

I was set to graduate in the spring, but I no longer wanted to be an actuary. My professors advised me to continue my education and consider doing my doctoral work at another school to broaden my experience. When I was visiting other schools, I immediately hit it off with J.C. Lu at North Carolina State University, so I told my husband I had to move to North Carolina (and eventually he joined me).

Lu was working on fascinating programs with the electrical engineering department, and I was integrated into one of the semiconductor processing research teams my first semester. Early on, I helped PhD students with statistical analysis, but later found myself with my own boat of wafers and lab time. A few electrical engineering students trained me to take electrical measurements on the wafers, and I used that data to test the hypothesis that metrics could be developed across a spatial surface and used to detect and diagnose different types of equipment faults. This experience made me appreciate the data-collection process and has driven me to understand what I am asking another scientist or engineer to do when I design an experiment with them.

As it came time to graduate, I knew I wanted an industrial position and was thrilled when Gerald Hahn offered me a job in the applied statistics lab at General Electric Global Research, the technology development arm for the General Electric Company.

Early in my career, I worked on plastic formulation and chemical process development. I learned a lot about chemistry, chemical plants, and mixture designs while working on many applications and codeveloping a robust design class for mixtures. Later, I switched to aircraft engines and led the probabilistic design research program for our aviation and energy businesses. Probabilistic methods my team developed were implemented in in-house design tools and are now used by hundreds of GE engineers.

I also was involved with the Six Sigma initiative at GE. I taught classes and earned my Black Belt certification. I now serve as the global quality leader for GE Global Research and am responsible for all the quality programs across research sites in New York, Germany, India, and China. My role includes implementing new problemsolving methods, and I lead the design for Six Sigma and reliability councils for the company. My role is much more strategic than tactical now, but I still get involved in research projects when needed.

I also continue to be involved in ASA activities. I am the past chair of the Quality & Productivity Section and serve on the editorial boards of Significance and the Journal of Statistics Education. The ASA provides a great forum for me to stay current with new methods and keep up with old and new friends. Regardless of what I do, I always consider myself a statistician first—and I have a Latin professor to thank for it!

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One Comment »

  • J.D. Williams said:

    I am very proud to know Martha Gardner personally, having worked with her at GE Global Research. She is a great example to all statisticians and a wonderful person to work with. Great job, Martha!