Statistics professor enjoys range of applications within the field

Author: Kathy Jonas

Xiufan Yu arrived at Notre Dame in August and is eagerly anticipating the lake effect snow so prevalent in South Bend.

The odds are she won’t be disappointed. 

“Some say I might get bored with it, but I think you can never get bored with something you enjoy,” said Yu, a new assistant professor in the Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics (ACMS).

Yu, who received her doctoral degree in statistics from Pennsylvania State University, was drawn to Notre Dame’s program because it is a strong interdisciplinary department with a collaborative reputation. “The students are very passionate and I can tell they are eager to learn. I love the students.”

Statistics drew her in originally because of the wide range of applications from public health to policy to genetics. “Many scientific research questions can be formulated as hypothesis testing problems, for example, the identification of gene-sets that are expressing differentially between people with and without certain types of cancer,” said Yu. These tests can then be applied to various disciplines such as genetics, econometrics and public health.  

Her work focuses on inference for high-dimensional data and, in particular, finding innovative methods to enhance the statistical testing power of a hypothesis test.

Interested in formulating statistical methods to solve “real world” problems, Yu was selected as an IBM Science for Social Good Fellow in 2019. During that summer, she worked with a group of researchers at the IBM AI  studying how to use graphical models to track the progression out of poverty through integrated social services. “This experience made me realize how science and technology can make an impact on society”. She remains dedicated to the idea of using her abilities to help others live a better life.

Yu started early pursuing her passion for numbers and data. She was admitted to the prestigious School of the Gifted Young at the University of Science and Technology in China in 2012. The school has been producing top leaders in science, technology and business for the past 40 years. It was there that she received her bachelor’s degree in statistics. 

In her spare time, Yu enjoys traveling. “For me, traveling is not only a way to relax, but also opens my eyes and expands my mind.” She has traveled to the north base camp of Mount Everest in China, characterizing it “a very exciting experience”. While it is called a “base camp,” it still has an altitude of 16,900 feet.