Bok Teaching Award and Statistics

The Derek C. Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching of Undergraduates is given each year to five teaching fellows who have been nominated by their departments. The recipients are chosen from the list of nominees by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The awards have been given each year since 2007.

A Ph.D. student in Statistics/Biostatistics has won all seven years so far.

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Bok award winners from Statistics/Biostatistics programs include Paul Edlefsen (2007), Paul Baines (2008), Yves Chretien (2009), Kari Lock (2010), Viktoriia Liublinska (2011), Valeria Espinosa (2012) and Kevin Rader (2013). Edlefsen graduated in 2009 and is an Assistant Professor of Biostatistics at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Baines graduated in 2010 and is an Assistant Professor of Statistics at the University of California-Davis; Chretien graduated in 2010 and is a Medical Intern/Resident in Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital; Lock graduated in 2011 and is an Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University; Liublinska graduated in 2013 and is a Senior Research Analyst at the Harvard Office of Institutional Research; Espinosa graduated in 2014 and is a Quantitative Analyst at Google; Rader graduated in 2014 and is a Senior Preceptor in Statistics here.

As suggested by the Harvard Gazette, it is statistically improbable that a Harvard teaching award open to all graduate students for the past seven years would go to members of the same department. One might expect a few departments to be represented twice in seven years, but certainly no more than this. What are the odds that teaching fellows from a single department would win in all seven years?

As the Gazette continues, "Adding to that improbability is the fact that the department in question is among the smallest at Harvard: Statistics." We celebrate this paradox -- knowing that our faculty members emphasize teaching quality like no other department at Harvard -- but recognizing too the gifts of the seven dedicated students who have been so justly honored.

Past Award Winners

Hyung-suk Tak - 2016 Bok Teaching Awardee

Hyung-suk Tak

Hyungsuk Tak, a G6 in the Department of Statistics, is recognized as a student who has “carried the statistical education of undergraduates in exciting and entirely new directions.” His passion for and interest in pedagogy had made him a wonderful TF for numerous courses where he has integrated research and teaching.

Hyungsuk is not only committed to teaching but views it as a way to challenge himself. He has taught General Education courses such as “Introduction to Quantitative Methods for the Social Sciences and Humanities” as well as more theoretical courses such as Stat 110, “Probability,” and Stat 111, “Introduction to Theoretical Statistics.” To teach such a wide range of courses is challenging and to do it well is great feat. In all cases, his students sing his praises.

“Tak is awesome. I had him as a TF in 110 and now again in 111. He is incredibly kind and helpful—he helps with homework during office hours but his main aim is to ensure that students understand the inner workings of a problem-solving method rather than come to a particular answer on a given problem set.”

His ability to teach a range of courses and do so effectively is a result of his own self-reflection. When he applied to be the department TF he wrote, “Having been a TF in five courses over the past two years, I have put my priority to being in students’ shoes.” It was this insight that helped him change the lectures he presented in his sections so that he could better help his students learn the material.

A former student noted, “Tak is one of the best TFs here…. He takes his time going through section materials and often stops to ask if we have questions before moving on. (He really embodies the “no question is a dumb question” theory). Instead of just filling the hour, I feel like he tries to figure out what he can go through that will benefit us the most with regards to understanding the material.”

Not surprisingly, he was chosen to serve as the departmental teaching fellow this year and helped co-lead the teaching practicum course. The comments from graduate students again highlighted his talents as a teacher.

Professors Natesh Pillai and Joseph Blitzstein also sing his praises. “Tak truly understands how to teach effectively, whether he is teaching undergraduates or graduate students. He is keenly aware of his students, whoever they may be, and I have seen how he observes them with close attention in order to ascertain the extent to which they are learning…. he is able to see what they understand and what they have trouble with, and he adjusts the pace accordingly.”

Kevin Rader - 2013 Bok Teaching Awardee

Kevin Rader
Kevin Rader, 2013 Bok Teaching Awardee

Kevin Rader, 2013 Bok Teaching Awardee

"Kevin Rader is an exemplary, influential teacher whose enthusiasm and dedication is an inspiration to his peers and to faculty colleagues in the Department of Statistics. As the leader of large, popular sections on the department's core undergraduate courses, and as a key to contributor to the pedagogy course for first-year graduate students, Kevin has touched every aspect of the department's teaching program. He is as effective in the classroom as he is as a mentor to other teachers.

"Students call him a 'natural-born teacher' and praise his gentle calming manner and his ability to guide students through difficult problems -- not by giving them the answers, but by giving them the tools to reach the answers on their own, in their own way. He listens, and he cares.

"His organizational skills and course management expertise are exceedingly rare; his ability to recruit, train and mentor new TFs is one of the reasons that the Stat 104 course was able to double its enrollment each semester -- from 250 to approximately 500 -- without a hitch. He has supervised more than 100 TFs during his time at Harvard, in the process producing beautifully crafted section material that all TFs can draw on."

Kevin Rader's Award Citation

Valeria Espinosa - 2012 Bok Teaching Awardee

Here is Valeria Espinosa's award citation. In her response to the announcement, she wrote, "It has been an honor to be part of a such a great teaching environment, with brilliant and critical students, supporting and insightful classmates and inspiring and challenging professors." A subsequent GSAS News article [4] contains the following words: "Valeria Espinosa consistently enlivens her teaching with fun and innovative real-world scenarios, helping students to see why a given topic is important, and how they can use it... In a field where real-life examples are crucial to motivating students, she decided to conduct small-scale experiments in class, devoting considerable energy to tailoring those experiments to the specific interests of students from a wide range of academic fields... Espinosa’s work has had a profound effect on her students, both in the classroom and in nontraditional settings, through the Harvard Bridge Tutor Program. A true leader, she intuitively understands the diversity of needs that students bring to any educational endeavor, and she is committed to meeting those needs with a remarkably positive attitude".

Viktoriia Liublinska - 2011 Bok Teaching Awardee

Viktoriia Liublinska
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ruel/GSAS Bulletin)

"Viktoriia Liublinska, a fourth-year student in the Department of Statistics, has carried the statistical education of undergraduates in exciting and entirely new directions, according to Professors Xiou-Li Meng, Joseph Blitzstein, and Carl Morris. As the Department Teaching Fellow in Statistics, Viktoriia has integrated research and teaching in a way that models her department's similar commitment. After having taken a leading role in implementing student-created video projects in the General Education course EMR 16, Real-Life Statistics, Viktoriia then stepped up to become the first TF in the department to conduct a randomized experiment designed to compare the effectiveness of multimedia assignments like these to the more traditional problem-set -- an area where pedagogical research is lacking.

"Viktoriia deliberately challenges herself to TF for a different course each term. She's taught -- and learned from -- a larger cross-section of students than most TFs, and she's been able to cross-pollinate by applying ideas from one course to another.

"Comments from her students make it clear how dedicated and caring she is. As one Gen Ed student writes, 'She was always there for us -- whether through office hours, sections, before class, after class, or e-mail. She was always accessible and so willing to help us understand.'"

Kari Lock - 2010 Bok Teaching Awardee

Kari Lock

"Kari Lock, a fourth-year student in the Department of Statistics, 'has a rare combination of clarity and organizational skills, a compelling presence, a desire to know her students as individuals, and an infectious enthusiasm for statistics.' So said three of the department's senior leaders, Professors Xiao-Li Meng, Joseph Blitzstein, and Carl Morris, as they detailed Lock's accomplishments in their nomination letter.

"Lock is not just well regarded in the department, the three stated; she has become, at a remarkably early stage, a sought-after speaker, teacher, and trainer by institutions including Harvard's Bok Center, the American Statistical Association, the National Science Foundation, and conferences on statistics and pedagogy around the world.

"Lock was instrumental in designing an interactive clicker system for introductory statistics courses, a technology that has resulted in excellent attendance and lively discussion. She's also been heavily involved in course design at the introductory level, helping to develop (with Xiao-Li Meng) first Stat 105 and now its descendent, the General Education course EM 16. Undergraduate education is in her genes, she says: she's writing an introductory statistics text with her parents, who both teach undergraduate math and stats, and two brothers, who both also study statistics."

Yves Chretien - 2009 Bok Teaching Awardee

chretien yves

Yves Chretien's answers to questions in an interview:

"In the Statistics Department, my class was the first to go through a new year-long colloquium, Statistics 303The Art and Practice of Teaching Statistics. It was terrific -- we got to practice teaching, and we received valuable tips from the Bok Center. The 303 course is now part of our professional development curriculum; the chair [Xiao-Li Meng, Whipple V. N. Jones Professor of Statistics] has recognized that teaching is a key component of professional development...

"I think changing the culture can go a long way toward overcoming the professional disincentives toward teaching. My cohort was the first that had the pedagogy course, and we saw it as something that was nice, but rather an experiment. Now it's in its fourth year, and one of my office mates, a first-year student, asked me, "I heard they used to not have a pedagogy course -- is that true?" The chair and a couple of other professors have invested themselves in the course and set the tone, and over a very short period of time it's become the norm...

"For our pedagogy course, we recalibrate from year to year, see what's working most effectively, see what's not working, and try to improve on that. What we learned in previous years is that students received the greatest benefits from practice teaching, so we've compressed other parts and increased this aspect of their training...

"For me, the most transformative experience was last spring, when I was teaching a new course in our department called Real-Life Statistics. It involves a lot of student projects -- it's very interactive -- and the questions they came up with were astonishing to me. We were amazed to see how much extra time the students spent thinking about the material on a level we weren't requiring them to reach...

"When I'm teaching introductory statistics, I'm always saying, 'Here's an equation or technique you need to learn, and here's why you should be excited to learn it.' The work that's required to do that is remarkably similar to what I have to do every semester in my department when I have to convince people about my work. In essence, I'm saying 'Here's what I've been working on; here's why the department should continue to fund it.' It's surprisingly similar, in the sense that you have to engage people who aren't immediately interested and expert in your own topic...

"When I came here I had a very hierarchical view of teaching, probably from my own undergraduate experience. I thought, the professor gives a lecture and tells me what to do and I go into the section and then give another mini-lecture based on that. I was surprised how interactive it turned out to be -- that with the students I could be more effective if I presented less and actually allowed more time for in-class exercises."

Paul Baines - 2008 Bok Teaching Awardee

Paul Baines

"Paul Baines is a third-year Ph.D student in the Statistics Department, whose influence 'will be felt for years to come in the department and beyond,' said Dean Allan Brandt. Baines created three teaching guides to serve his colleagues in the department, demonstrating a far-reaching grasp of the pedagogical problems faced by all teachers." [8]

Baines's comments on the joy of working so closely with students:

" 'I love teaching undergraduates because you come across so many different people and personalities,' he said. 'They all have insightful questions.' Baines said he was 'stunned' to win a teaching award. 'It is a real honor. I know the people who have won it previously and they are all phenomenal instructors, so to be given the same recognition is wonderful' ".

Paul Edlefsen - 2007 Bok Teaching Awardee

Paul Edlefsen,

"Paul Edlefsen, a Ph.D. student in statistics, was nominated for the Levinson Teaching Prize for serving as a teaching fellow in the course 'Uncertainty and Statistical Reasoning.' He was also a teaching fellow for an upper-level undergraduate course, 'Introduction to Stochastic Processes,' earning a strong CUE score overall. He also created a handbook for statistics teaching fellows and co-presented a session on teaching in the sciences for the fall Bok Center Teaching Conference.

"This year Edlefsen served as a Lead Teaching Fellow in Statistics. Department chair Xiao-Li Meng wrote that Edlefsen 'has no peer' for his contributions to and influence on the overall quality of teaching in the department and in the Core. He added that Edlefsen 'excels in creating a welcoming environment where questions are encouraged and good lines of communication are always open. I have never known any graduate student who is as passionate, devoted, and effective as Paul in training and motivating other students to become effective TFs.' "