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My ASA Story: Theresa Utlaut, Applied Statistician

1 April 2023 739 views One Comment

Theresa Utlaut

My career path has been straight, without many deviations. That might sound boring, but I have loved my adventures as an applied statistician. Before starting graduate school, I knew I wanted to be an applied statistician. It was part of my application essay.

It is rather odd I knew that, given I really did not know much about statistics. I had taken two engineering statistics classes and did not like them. However, I thought there was much more to the field than what I had been taught in those classes. I had always loved mathematics and was passionate about art. Statistics seemed to be a nice merger of the two. So, off I went to graduate school to learn about this field I didn’t like but was fairly confident I would learn to like.

During my second year at Oregon State University, I decided to apply for a summer internship. I was fortunate to get an offer from Intel Corporation in the technology development group. That internship ended up lasting for three summers, and then I was offered a permanent position once I graduated with my PhD.

It is the networking and opportunities to learn from top experts that keep me engaged with the ASA today.

I have worked with the technology development group at Intel for more than 25 years now as an applied statistician. I find it rewarding, since I am working on new and interesting problems all the time. It has been especially challenging and fun in the last decade, with the explosion of data and the different data types—never a dull moment! I am also the director of a wonderful and talented group of statisticians and data scientists, which allows me to define a strategy for the technology development group and how we keep pushing analytics forward.

When a professor went around the department trying to get students to sign up, I joined the ASA without knowing anything about it. I believe it was free for my first year, and I loved free stuff when I was in graduate school. (I’m sure many can relate.) I remained a student member, and I happened to be in Chicago on vacation one summer when JSM was in progress. There was one talk I really wanted to attend, so I went for just a day. It was overwhelming! There were so many people, and they were all excited about statistics. I don’t know if I felt joy or fear, but I stayed away from JSM for a few years.

General Mills Dough Boy

My engagement with the ASA really started with the Oregon Chapter. My department encouraged students to attend the evening meetings, which included a seminar and dinner (the department paid for the dinner, so more free stuff), and I met a lot of great people. The networking kept me engaged after I finished my degree. I became an active member of the Oregon Chapter and served as the treasurer/secretary, vice president, and president. I also helped coordinate the regional science fair, which I still do today. My involvement in the chapter led me to learn more about the ASA’s national activities.

I started to attend JSM regularly. I got hooked on attending JSM when Don McCormack asked if I wanted to go to the joint Q&P/SPES sections mixer. I wasn’t that interested, but he convinced me it was a lot of fun and I might win a “dough boy.” If you haven’t been to this mixer, they have drawings for amazing prizes with the most sought-after prize being a Fred Hulting–supplied General Mill’s Dough Boy. I thought they were all a bit on the strange side until I won the dough boy, which turned me into a celebrity for the night. I had a great time and was delighted to be around such amazingly smart and fun people. It is the networking and opportunities to learn from top experts that keep me engaged with the ASA today.

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One Comment »

  • Phil Scinto said:

    Great story from a terrific person