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New Faculty Focus: Vivak Patel

He joins the Department of Statistics, with a research focus at the intersection of numerical optimization and statistical estimation.

by Katie Vaughn November 16, 2018
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Vivak Patel

Title: Assistant Professor of Statistics

Hometown: East Brunswick, New Jersey

Educational background: BS in physics at Rutgers, MS in mathematics at Cambridge, PhD in statistics at the University of Chicago.   

How did you get into your field of research? 

As with most things in my life, by accident. When I was an undergraduate student, I worked in a biomedical engineering lab and I loved the subject material but that same passion did not extend to the experimental aspect of it. Importantly, I still could not get away from my love for mathematics. 

At the time, I thought that the best way to bridge the gap between doing science without the lab work and doing mathematics was by pursuing statistics. I was terribly wrong about how it all worked, but then I ended up pursuing a PhD in statistics before I figured out that I was wrong. And then one day, during my PhD studies, I was in a class in which the professor said something that was too wishy-washy for my taste, and I decided that I wanted to find a rigorous solution. So I did, and that’s how I ended up in my area of research. 

My research is at the intersection of numerical optimization and statistical estimation with applications to dynamical systems. On the one hand, I interpret this as using numerical optimization ideas to design statistical estimators that are practically computable, yet still retain certain desirable statistical properties. On the other hand, I interpret this as using statistical ideas to design optimization methods for solving minimization problems that involve uncertainty. 

What attracted you to UW-Madison?

What was your first visit to campus like? Intense and enthralling … a full day of interviews with incredibly humble and brilliant people … I had no breaks. But I came back to my hotel at the end of the day incredibly excited, and that is when I knew I that UW-Madison was the right place for me. 

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?

I demand a lot from my students, but I want them to know that it is okay not to meet all of my expectations. They are adults and as adults they sometimes need to make compromises on how much effort they put into their classes with their other responsibilities outside of the classroom. 

Hobbies/other interests:

Woodwork. Once I find a good shop, I will pick it up again.