Jamie Stafford, Distinguished Service Award 2019

Jamie Stafford
Distinguished Service Award

Professor Jamie Stafford is the recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Service Award from the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC). This award honours an individual who has played an important and substantial role in fostering the growth and success of the Canadian statistical sciences community through leadership in the SSC.

Jamie was born in Toronto, and attended the University of Toronto for undergraduate and graduate work, completing his PhD in the Department of Statistics in 1992. During his time at U of T he was also a track star---all Canadian and a veteran of four world championships as a member of the national team. His PhD thesis, under the supervision of David Andrews and Rob Tibshirani, was focussed on asymptotics for likelihood-based inference. The methods of the time involved lengthy expansions and careful collection of terms, and Jamie had the brilliant idea of bypassing these tedious hand calculations with symbolic computation. This work evolved into the book Symbolic Computation for Statistical Inference, with David Andrews, published by OUP in 2000.

Jamie held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Oxford and then at Stanford University, and in 1994 joined the Department of Statistical and Actuarial Sciences at Western University. In 1999 he moved to the University of Toronto in the Departments of Public Health Sciences and Statistical Sciences. His skills in leadership were recognized very early: he was graduate chair at Western, and associate, acting and then interim chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine. From 2002 to 2009 he first established, and then led, the National Program on Complex Data Structures. This was a pilot project intended to lead to a national institute for statistical science, and the Canadian Institute for Statistical Sciences is the result. Jamie’s leadership with NPCDS galvanized the community around interdisciplinary research, inspired many students who went on to establish successful research collaborations, and set the stage for the current success of CANSSI. While juggling all these administrative roles he continued to develop research programs in spatial data analysis, survey sampling, and spatio-temporal models, with a special emphasis on local smoothing methods applied to this non-standard and complex data.

In 2008 Jamie was appointed Chair of the Department of Statistics, and for the next ten years led a remarkable period of expansion of the department. During those ten years undergraduate enrollment in statistics programs increased by ten-fold. Jamie managed this growth with grace and vision. He developed a core of teaching stream faculty to provide pedagogical leadership in the department. He managed a large increase in administrative positions to help the department cope with the flood of students. Most importantly he established the department as a recognized research resource across campus, primarily through a number of targetted and joint appointments in a wide range of application areas, including biostatistics, computer science, sociology, astronomy and astrophysics, and psychology. In addition to advancing statistical science at the University of Toronto these efforts have provided a model for other groups in Canada to look to as their student numbers increase. 

Jamie has three children with Maria Luisa Gardner, R.I.P.: Gabriela, Lucia and Nicholas, and two step-children, with Leanne Shafir: Talia and Gabrielle. Jamie continues to run regularly, but finds he cannot keep up with his spouse or any of his children!

The citation for the award reads: 

“To James E. Stafford, for his vision in developing the National Program on Complex Data Structures, the forerunner of the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI), for his enthusiastic and dynamic leadership in statistical science across Canada, and for hosting the 2014 Annual Meeting of the SSC.”

Nancy Reid was primarily responsible for preparing this material.