New Faculty: Ryan Giordano, Assistant Professor
The UC Berkeley Department of Statistics is excited to welcome Assistant Professor Ryan Giordano, Ph.D. 2019 to the faculty.
"We are thrilled and grateful to have Ryan join our faculty," said Chair Haiyan Huang. "Not only is Ryan an incredibly bright scholar, he is also a joy to work with and brings so much to our community."
Giordano's research interests include variational methods, Bayesian robustness, sensitivity analysis, and open software, but can be further described by statistical reasoning and how it can go wrong.
"As a statistician, I seek to develop tools that allow people to see when they might be making a mistake. And the kind of mistake I have in mind is when untenable assumptions about the model or the fitting procedure, that could have been made some other way, would materially affect an analysis."
Giordano sees the study of statistics in the same way ancient Greek philosophers thought of rhetoric and logic.
"We're using quantitative methods to make plausible arguments to other people, but which aren't designed to be watertight. They can't be watertight because they rest on assumptions about the data, the method, and how the conclusions will be generalized to other settings. And so when you think about statistics as rhetoric. The approach is to find the tools that allow scholars to interrogate assumptions and make analyses that are easy to understand."
Giordano cites examples of how a few data changes or omitted data points can tremendously impact analyses and conclusions. Furthermore, he points to his time in the Peace Corps, which taught him the importance of understanding the local context when informing policy.
Giordano studied engineering as an undergrad at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. That training prepared him to balance the real world and theoretical considerations in his future focus on statistics. After earning his undergraduate degree, Giordano worked at Hewlett Packard, then joined the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, where he taught English and math in a small, rural town in the northern city of Kokshteau. While in the Peace Corps, he connected closely with many of his students. He returned to Kazakhstan for their high school graduation and still keeps in touch with several of them over a decade later.
His time in Kazakhstan sparked an interest in development economics, leading Giordano to enroll in the London School of Economics, where he studied econometrics. That led to his interest in statistics. Giordano went on to join Google in the ads quality division, working on a team that ran experiments to make design decisions on digital advertising. Giordano was still interested in statistics and was accepted into the Berkeley Statistics Ph.D. program, where he was advised by Tamara Broderick, Michael Jordan, and Jon McAuliffe. His dissertation is titled "On the Local Sensitivity of M-Estimation: Bayesian and Frequentist Applications."
"I was very lucky to go to Cal, where I was able to meet many students and faculty who shared an understanding of the nature of my interests and the interface between mathematical reasoning and reality."
Giordano held a postdoctoral position at MIT before returning to Berkeley as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2023.
Off-campus, Giordano likes to spend time with his wife, Dora Zhang, and two young children, Kai and Ada, ideally outdoors.