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Reflections on JSM 2015

1 October 2015 No Comment
David Morganstein

David Morganstein

I reckon I had a degree of personal contact with about 250 people while at Seattle’s JSM. To the 6,600 others I missed, I look forward to connecting during a future JSM or another ASA activity! Indeed, it was another record attendance, exceeding the tremendous turnout for the 175th anniversary in Boston last year by about 50 people.

To the approximately 1,500 first-time attendees, I hope it was all you thought it would be and more. To the approximately 100 docents who worked with Mary Kwasny, thanks for volunteering to guide people, answer their questions, and make them feel more welcome and less confused!

To the eager and energetic first-timers at the table with me, it was a real treat talking to you and reconnecting with that feeling of awe and enthusiasm of our first JSM. To the 43 mentors who offered to connect with people looking for experience and guidance, here’s hoping this is a start to a rewarding experience for you all.

To the many award winners, including our new Fellows, congratulations! A special recognition to James Albert, David Banks, and Sally Morton—winners of the ASA Founders Award for the hundreds of hours (Dare I say more?) of time generously given to support the ASA in myriad ways. To the hundreds of people serving on or chairing committees and organizing or chairing sessions—making JSM such a success—thank you! To the dedicated and responsive ASA staff, it wouldn’t have happened without all your efforts before and during the event!

Here are some random observations and recollections of note as the conference unfolded.

ASA Executive Director. Ron Wasserstein is always on the move, being at the right place at the right time, providing support to board members, clearing the path, helping us look like we know what we’re doing! The skilled orchestra director inspiring the members of the orchestra with perfect coordination and timing, though some might say he is more like the Wizard of Oz—behind the curtain and pulling the levers!

Meeting with Docents on Sunday. Mary Kwasny standing on a chair, inspiring her legions of docents! Enthusiastic volunteers, some sporting green biopharm shirts.

First-Time Attendee Orientation and Reception. Ballrooms 6 A, B, and C filled with first-timers (perhaps 500?), tables as far as you can see with enthusiastic and eager first-timers in rapt conversation with docents; their energy and curiosity at the mixer recharged my batteries. Paula Roberson and Jeri Mulrow warmly welcoming the first-timers. Jeri offering them a “Top 10 List” of things they have to do while at JSM. Many thanks to the Caucus for Women in Statistics for its sponsorship of this event.

ASA Staff. Ready, prepared, helpful. All we need to do is ask and they’re on it! Looking to address anything that needs fixing or could be improved.

Exhibit Hall. Walking through the EXPO, feeling a keen level of interest, seeing the vibrant posters and dynamic presenters.

Council of Sections (COS) Business Meeting. Meet with the COS to talk about initiatives, plans, and ways the board can support the COS. Urging each section to consider starting a mentoring program or giving annual recognition to an outstanding mentor from a chapter. Learned the Section on Statistical Consulting has initiated a mentoring award and the Biopharmaceutical Section mentoring program is developing nicely!

Awards Ceremony. Dressed in his dapper tuxedo, Nat Schenker honoring the awardees and quickly adjusting to last-minute changes. Looked as smooth as silk! ASA expended great effort before the ceremony to ensure recipients’ names would be announced accurately by providing Nat with a recording of them pronouncing their own name and adding a phonetic pronunciation just in case. Congratulating all the award winners, thinking what an extraordinary organization with so many willing to step forward and do whatever needs to be done.

Opening Mixer. A few dozen attendees walking up to me and asking to take a picture with me! Why on Earth? After the fifth one, I asked, “Why would you want this photo?” Answer: The JSM Challenge. The conference app had a series of questions and tasks … one of which was “Get a selfie with Morganstein”! Meeting many ASA members this way.

Stopping to chat with old colleagues while traveling from hotel to conference center and back! Many steps recorded on my fitness app!

ASA/Significance Luncheon. Listening to friends Jonas and Susan Ellenberg’s brilliant mathematician son, Jordan, discuss his perspective on the contrast between our two fields—mathematics and statistics. (Read his book, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking!)

President’s Invited Speaker. Big attendance at Christine Fox’s talk. Fantastic presentation, full of excellent advice, great passion, and interesting reflections on three secretaries of defense.

Council of Chapters (COC) Governing Board. A quick return to the Sheraton to chat with COC Governing Board members about initiatives, plans, and ways the board can support them. Urging each chapter to consider starting a mentoring program or giving annual recognition to an outstanding mentor. Discussing the progress the Washington Statistical Society is making in its newly initiated mentoring program.

Hearing my administrative assistant, Melissa Mills, say to me, “You have 30 events on your calendar from Sunday to Thursday, and some are at the same time!”

Meeting Within a Meeting (MWM). Welcoming the teachers who participate in MWM, a two day workshop the ASA offers to help train to help train middle and high school mathematics and science teachers to teach statistics. Sharing with them the appreciation we feel for the important and challenging career they have taken on and offering them the ASA’s support.

Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS) Meeting. Attending the important meeting of statistical societies and discussing joint efforts, including awards that recognized outstanding contributions to our profession.

Committee on Applied Statisticians (CAS) Mentoring Discussion. Mentors outnumbering mentees two to one. Enthusiastic participants. Insights and experiences offered by Sastry Pantula, Sally Morton, and me in a lively panel discussion with lots of audience interaction.

Practice … and Walking. Back to the conference center for a walk-through of the Founders and Fellows awards. Knowing this was the first of two congratulations I would warmly extend to them! By the time of the official ceremony Tuesday night—the second congratulations—we seemed like old friends.

Doing a dry run of my talk to a cavernous, yet virtually empty, ballroom filled with thousands of empty chairs … save two. Jessica Utts and Sally Morton graciously came to offer support and feedback, willing to make the sacrifice of sitting through my talk twice! That’s support! Can’t thank you enough!

If Ron, Nat, Jessica, and I received a dollar for every step we took traveling between events in the hotel and conference center, think of all the student registrations we could pay for!

Deming Lecture. Congratulating William Meeker, the 2015 Deming Lecturer, for his extraordinary career and extensive contributions to our profession.

Walking … Back to the hotel to get into a tux for the evening! Having a last “quality check” from dear wife, Sheue-Ling, to make sure all is in place. Getting a picture taken by daughter, Emily, that made it on Facebook before I could even return to the conference center for the evening events!

2015 Fellows. A great honor to represent the ASA in congratulating each one of the new Fellows as they push forward the boundaries of statistical knowledge and practice.

President’s Address. Months of preparation and practice come to a head. The speech of a lifetime to more than 1,000 colleagues. The three-dimensional Prezi format, with pictures and videos added to the expected text and graphs, seemed to add interest for the audience. A nice change of pace from the linear PowerPoint presentation. Received nice comments back!

If you saw any problems that need addressing, have any suggestions for making the conference better, please send them along!

In closing, I hope all of you—whether it was your first or 20th conference—made the connections, renewed the friendships, and discovered the methods that help enhance your careers, contributions, and enthusiasm for our work as statisticians. See you next year in Chicago!

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