World-Renowned Culverhouse Statistics Professor Wins Burnum Award

1904071, portrait of Dr. Subha Chakraborti, Burnum Award winner, shot 04-16-19

By Jamon Smith

For the past 35 years, University of Alabama professor of statistics and Morrow Faculty Excellence Fellow Dr. Subha Chakraborti has traveled the world researching and developing new theories and methods in statistics and its applications.

Chakraborti’s contributions to the field have earned him many prestigious awards, recognitions and elite organization invitations, and now, it’s earned him one more: the Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award.

The Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award is one of the University’s highest honors for a faculty member and is awarded to one recipient annually to recognize and promote excellence in research, scholarship and teaching.

“As a Carnegie Highest Research University, UA looks for ways to showcase the great work of its faculty, and the Burnum Award gives us an opportunity to celebrate the impact of our faculty’s work and hold them up as models for the entire UA community,” said Dr. Susan Carvalho, dean of the UA Graduate School.

Chakraborti’s focus has been on statistical application in a branch of statistics called nonparametric statistics, where decisions are made without referring to a distribution, such as the bell curve.

He has played a key role in developing the niche area of nonparametric statistical quality control – developing methods of making things better by improving the monitoring of processes.

He’s co-authored a book on the topic, “Nonparametric Statistical Inference,” that’s gone through five editions, and he just published another one, “Nonparametric Statistical Process Control,” that he co-authored with one of his former doctoral students from South Africa – a country  Chakraborti visited as a Fulbright Fellow in 2004.

Though citing how his research has been specifically used to impact practical application is difficult due to the proprietary nature of the information, the field of quality control methods itself has changed the face of many industries in the past 75 years, from manufacturing to surveillance to disease monitoring.

“There’s a difference between my line of work and someone, say, in engineering, who might build something and show it saying, ‘look, here’s what I’ve done,’” Chakraborti said. “Our work is methodological, using mathematics, more theory, computers, that one could use to improve processes. But clearly, in small measures over time, we get to see a return on how our work has helped.

“There are industries that are using some of this work to make their processes more efficient, and that’s one way how we get to see how this research is used. The Six Sigma, for example, uses statistical quality control technology to reduce variation. If you can reduce variation you can make a better product.”

“It’s a Great Honor”

Dr. Subha Chakraborti,
Burnum Award winner

The Burnum recipient must have demonstrated superior scholarly or artistic achievements and a profound dedication to the art of teaching, all of which bring distinctive credit to the academic community in general and to The University of Alabama in particular, according to the Burnum website.

“The selection committee was impressed that he is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, which is an honor awarded to less than 1 percent of the association’s thousands of members. The committee was also impressed by his international recognition and the global partnerships that his work has brought to The University of Alabama. That’s really what made him stand out amongst all of the nominees,” Carvalho said.

The Burnum selection committee is comprised of representative faculty from across the University, including past winners.

Chakraborti, a faculty member in the department of information systems, statistics and management science within the Culverhouse College of Business, said he feels honored and humbled to join the esteemed group of honorees.

Dr. Subha Chakraborti, Burnum Award winner

“It’s a great honor, maybe a once in a lifetime type of achievement,” he said. “I’d like to thank everyone that’s played a role in this process from the nominators and the supporting letters from people all over the world, to the award committee.

“Also, I feel like this is a win for statistics. Statistics professors are generally thought of as not too interesting. Who knows what they do?” he said laughing.

“Those who teach and do methodological research in statistics, for them I think this is a great honor.”

The Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award was established through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. John Burnum, and it has been given annually since 1980.

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