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Mary Thompson

“Mathematics, to me is … fundamental to the way I think about many things, including statistics and science.”
Mary's biography

I was born in Winnipeg, and grew up in Scarborough, east of Toronto. In high school I liked most subjects, but was drawn to mathematics by grade 12 Euclidean geometry, taught by a superb teacher. I attended the University of Toronto, and graduated in Mathematics and Physics, with main focus on mathematics and statistics. Because I had enjoyed undergraduate probability, I went to the University of Illinois for a PhD degree, and was very fortunate to be able to study with probabilist J. L. Doob. In 1969, my husband and I came to the University of Waterloo, which was then expanding its faculty complement. I was hired into the Department of Statistics, and embarked in the new direction of teaching and carrying out research in statistics. I have stayed at Waterloo ever since, retiring from teaching in 2009. Our family has grown up here: we have three sons and four grandchildren, all living in the area.

At first I thought of statistics just as an area in which mathematics could be applied, and I worked in the theory and foundations of statistics. However, I gradually came to see that much of statistics is really about science and scientific inference, and I find the applications fascinating. Now I like to introduce new research students early on to real applications, to guide their choices of problems to work on and results to prove. Much of my own work is applied, having to do with survey methodology. On the more theoretical side, I am currently interested in modeling evolution of social networks.

Guiding graduate students in their research.

A strong role, and at the same time a subtle one. I had the benefit of good and supportive advice as a high school and university student, and as a young faculty member. The first of my mathematical mentors who were women were my office mates in graduate school.

Not when I was young, but this was probably a failure of imagination!

Go for it, being prepared to change course if you need to. Do not spend much time in the company of naysayers.

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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