ACEMS Student Wins Top Stats Society Competition

James Yu started university in the medical sciences. But thanks to a required course and a friend, he’s about to finish a PhD in statistics.

As he gets ready to finish that PhD, he has just won first prize in the prestigious J.B. Douglas Postgraduate Awards, presented by the New South Wales branch of the Statistical Society of Australia.


James Yu (right) receiving award from Jake Olivier

James competed against seven other PhD students across New South Wales universities. Each person gave up to a 20 minute presentation on their research. When it was over, the judges decided James had given the best presentation.

“When they said my name for the first place prize, it took a few seconds to register,” said James, an ACEMS PhD student at UTS.

James’ talk was about work that he has done as part of his thesis which was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. It involves generalised linear mixed models, which are an important type of model that allow researchers to model multilevel datasets. James says for frequentist inference, the current methods all have major drawbacks.

“My talk explains how we used expectation propagation, which is typically used in Bayesian settings, to get accurate results for generalised linear mixed models with frequentist inference,” said James.

James’ supervisors at UTS are ACEMS Chief Investigator Matt Wand and ACEMS Research Fellow Stephen Wright. James' win follows last year’s win by another ACEMS PhD Student at UTS, Tea Uggen.

“Since UTS won last year with Tea,  I felt relieved I didn’t lose it for us this year, but I also felt really happy I could do Matt and my other colleagues proud,” said James.

James actually completed a Bachelor of Medical Sciences at UTS. As part of that degree, he had to take a stats course, which he says he loved.

“When I finished my Medical Science degree and was trying to find the next step in my career, a friend showed me the possibilities of statistics, and so I decided to make the switch,” said James.

Now, James is starting to combine his love of medicine with stats. He is currently working as a biostatistician with a genetics startup whose goal is to solve the mystery behind neurodegenerative diseases.

Moving forward, he says competing in the J.B. Douglas Awards competition will help him.

“The experience has certainly helped me improve my communications skills, and the lessons I learnt from my experience will certainly stay with me for the future,” said James.

“All in all, I felt humbled to compete in the presence of so many other great researchers.”

James says he is extremely grateful for all the help and support from his colleagues at UTS and ACEMS who helped him prepare, and supported him at the competition.

Congratulations, James!