David Pollard

Professor of Statistics and Data Science and of Economics

Image of David PollardDavid Pollard, B.S. University of Melbourne, Ph.D. Australian National University, faculty member at Yale since 1977 when you came to Yale at the invitation of John Hartigan, knowing nothing about Connecticut, to be a visiting assistant professor: You are a world-class statistician, a leading scholar in probability theory, empirical processes, and Le Cam theory. Your highly influential books, Convergence of Stochastic Processes and Empirical Processes, are standard references for asymptotic statistics and machine learning theory. A User’s Guide to Measure Theoretic Probability is ground-breaking in its unconventional yet rigorous approach to advanced probability. As recondite as your work is, you have a reputation for writing extremely well and clearly describing complicated ideas, often through the use of “horsey-and-ducky” examples. You are so highly regarded as a scholar and writer, we have to report, that even your published notes are considered valuable and distributed far and wide!

Not just an admired scholar, however, you are also a gifted teacher who is able to make the hardest concepts seem easy and intuitive and whose infectious humor makes heavy work lighter. A student wrote: “Classes I took from David Pollard were all difficult, and all were exhilarating. He was the perfect paradigm of a teacher: invariably perfectly prepared, yet open to improvisation and surprises; willing to reveal himself thinking about the subject while standing in front of the class; dedicated to meticulous annotation of homework (marking not only errors, but applauding felicitous choices, and inserting encouraging remarks); and giving of himself totally in the process of teaching, which was a joy-ride of enthusiasm and discovery through his subject.” We can think of no higher praise for a teacher than that.

Your pedagogical interest was not only individual: you helped introduce a successful model of teaching introductory statistics courses by sharing teaching with faculty members from other departments. The Yale Probabilistic Networks Group seminar, a master class in your research process, has trained decades of your graduate students.

In character and temperament, you are known for your extraordinary desire and ability to dive deep into the details of any task you are given. This capacity is visible in all your activities, whether in chairing the department, in your scholarship, teaching, and advising, in learning new computing methods, or—for that matter—in reading all the materials presented at the divisional committee, to name just a few. The process of editing a paper with you often requires extreme endurance! One student mentioned fifteen editing cycles: you invariably identify simpler arguments, clearer language, and new directions to explore. But the final product of that effort is always worth it. All of these traits are surely what was in evidence when, as an expert witness to the Connecticut Public Defender’s Office, you helped reform the State of Connecticut jury system.

As a person you are known to be wise and kind: You always have time for your students and colleagues. You think deeply about the interests of your department, your colleagues, your students, and the University. If you are on a committee, your colleagues all listen and highly value your insights. A careful analysis, according to first-rate methodology, of your contributions to your work, your department, and to Yale has demonstrated that 100% of the people think you are worthy of 100% of their admiration and regard and wish for you in retirement a life of 100% satisfaction. What more can any statistician ask for?