Interview with Olga Korosteleva

November 19, 2019

Olga is a statistician by education and trade. She received her Ph.D. in statistics from Purdue University in 2002, where she taught statistics courses as a teaching assistant for six years. For the past 17 years she has been working as a professor of Statistics at Cal State University, Long Beach (CSULB). She has authored/co-authored 15 articles published in peer-reviewed journals, mostly in applied fields (kinesiology, nursing, and health sciences), including four books (clinical trials, minimax theory, nonparametric statistics, and advanced regressions). Her passion for statistics and organizational skills are not limited to her job alone. For the past six years, she has taught extracurricular lessons in math and science to elementary school students, and for the past year she held regular practice sessions for middle-school and high-school students to prepare them for various math competitions.

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1) What does data science mean to you? Data Science is not really my profession. A good data scientist, in my opinion, is an excellent programmer and a decent statistician.

2) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing data science today? The biggest challenge is absence of formal degrees in Data Science at the level of state universities (like CSULB). There are, of course, degrees at selected universities, but not at the scale that is needed today. Creating such a degree is a huge challenge by itself. For instance, students majoring in Computer Science at CSULB don’t have sufficient math background to take our courses in Applied Statistics. Their knowledge of math stops at Calculus II, whereas a stat degree would require a calculus sequence (calc I, II, and III), linear algebra, calc III -based probability theory, calc III – based mathematical statistics, and only then students would be ready to take linear regression course, multivariate data analysis course, and data mining/data informatics course.

3) How did you get started in the data world? I am a second-generation statistician. My father recently retired from teaching at Wayne State University for 25 years. He received his education at Moscow State University at the golden era of the Kolmogorov school, and all big-name Russian statisticians were his teachers, mentors, and colleagues. Since my early teen years, the choice of profession was obvious to me.

4) What is your workday like? Since I work in academia, I have a flexible schedule, and it changes from semester to semester. But what is fixed is that I teach four courses per semester (I request to teach that many courses). I advise, supervise, and mentor a lot of students. I organize a lot of events at the regional level. I coach a lot of school-age students. Typically, I work around 65 hours a week. On the least busy days, I work 9am to 2pm and then 9pm to 2am. On the busiest days, I work 8:30am to 5:30pm and then 9pm to 2am. My days are filled up with holding office hours, teaching courses, answering tons of emails, and sending out tons of organizational emails.

5) What is your favorite childhood toy? And why? That’s a tough question. I grew up in Soviet Union, and there, childhood is short. I remember that by age seven, when I started the first grade, we got rid of all the toys that I played with. I wasn’t interested in them anymore. As kids we used to play outdoors a lot and made up our own games. And that was a norm.

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