Supervising a Hoopes Thesis

Amanda Swinhart/Harvard Staff Photographer
Harvard Gazette, May 24, 2012

The Thomas T. Hoopes Prize is an award given annually to Harvard University undergraduates, most commonly in recognition of extraordinary AB thesis work.  Past recipients in the Statistics Department are listed in both our Student Research Awards page and our Faculty Teaching Awards page.  The fact that both advisee and advisor are honored is an inspiration, since the engagement and discipline required for a teacher to train a new researcher are considerable.  We note that, of all faculty recipients, Professor Donald B. Rubin has won the highest number of Hoopes prizes by far.  

In response to a question, "What are the most important ingredients in supervising an outstanding AB thesis in Statistics?", Professor Rubin kindly answered:

"Hoopes prize-winning thesis writers are special.  First, they are very smart, which surely is plentiful among Harvard's undergraduates.  Second, they are highly motivated, which is also plentiful here.  Third, they have to be focused but flexible, which is trickier.  By this I mean that they have to be focused on a general idea but not so narrowly focused that the target distracts them from what can be completed within the allocated time-frame using the available resources.  My major contribution to my five Hoopes winners has been to define versions of their ideas that can be accomplished within the constraints of time and resources, and this often has involved a current real life problem of actual interest.  And then, of course, it is critical to meet with them often, and to encourage their enthusiasm for their topics, especially when their efforts appear to them to be going nowhere;  the best ideas evolve from paths that others have deserted because they appeared to be dead ends.  Obviously I'm very proud of my Hoopes winners, but I'm also very proud of some others who wrote wonderful undergraduate theses."