In Memoriam: Sir David Cox's influence on my Academic life

By Catherine Wilson posted 02-09-2022 14:19

In acknowledgment of Sir David Cox's passing, we would like to invite the IBS membership to contribute stories of their interactions with Prof. Cox over the span of his remarkable career, starting the thread with a personal account of the former IBS president, Clarice Demétrio.

"Encouraged by Gauss M. Cordeiro(UFPE) and with a grant from a Brazilian research funding agency, CNPq, I went for a post-doctorate at Imperial College in London, from February 1986 to September 1987, under the supervision of Sir David Cox, known for his great contributions to theoretical and applied statistics.

It was difficult for me at the beginning, with problems of adaptation to a different culture, language, and weather conditions, problems with my statistical background, and high living costs associated with the weakness of the Brazilian currency against the British pound at the time. During this time, the support I received from David Cox, John Nelder, Gillian Reeves, Agnes M. Herzberg, Ann F.S. Mitchell, David Firth, Anthony Davison, Anthony C. Atkinson, Linda V. White, Carl M. O'Brien, and Luiz C. Basso, among others, was very important. They were very patient with my poor English. David was very approachable, helpful, friendly and fostered my increasing knowledge. I used to see him regularly for discussing statistical problems and new ideas. I remember once he told me: "when reading a paper, you need to look for what the author has not done, it is a key point for research."

My post-doctorate at Imperial College resulted in a wonderful experience, in addition to the improvement of statistical knowledge and my English, it gave me a flavor of international cooperation, opened my eyes to new research areas, and forever changed my academic life. Sir David Cox, considered a giant in the field of statistics, attracted many visitors to the department and I was able to put faces to the names of authors of many famous statistical books and papers. 
I had the opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world, building links that last until now, as friends and collaborators. For example, this was when I first met Chris Brien (University of South Australia, Adelaide), an expert on design of experiments mainly in agriculture, who was visiting Imperial College and Rothamsted Experimental Station, Harpenden, simultaneously. We shared an office for six months, but it was hard for me to understand his English because he spoke in Australian vernacular. Also, during this time, Lynne Billard (University of Georgia, Athens, USA), Alan Agresti (University of Florida, USA), and Bent Jørgensen (University of Southern Denmark) visited Imperial College. We became close friends and they have all visited my department in Brazil multiple times.

It was during this period at Imperial College that I started to learn the theory of Generalized Linear Models (GLMs). Back in Brazil, I initiated new research in this area in my department and we started to use some more appropriate models to analyze count and proportion data of colleagues from Escola Superior de Agricultura "Luiz de Queiroz" (ESALQ) instead of simply using a data transformation. Also, I was invited to teach graduate students (in 1988, I gave the first course on GLMs) and started supervising graduate students. However, I felt I needed to learn more and this could be achieved through going abroad for further study periods and statistical conferences, and by bringing people from abroad to my department. With the international experience I got, I was able to collaborate with other developing countries in Latin America and Africa by giving talks and teaching courses on the theory and application of GLMs and extensions.

All of this has culminated with some international awards, and a Doctor Honoris Causa degree that I received from The University of Hasselt, Belgium. Finally, one of the most important consequences of my international experience is that it gave me the great honour of becoming the first IBS President coming from a developing country. The opening up of my academic world and statistical awareness resulting from the post-doc at Imperial College has been so important to my career, essentially due to David being such a magnet for visitors, ideas, etc. Without David's initial encouragement and continuing support over the years, none of this would have happened."