Each year, at the end of their term, the IMS President gives an address at the Annual Meeting. Because of the pandemic, the 2020 Annual Meeting, which would have been at the World Congress in Seoul, didn’t happen, and Susan Murphy’s Presidential Address was postponed to this year. The 2020–21 President, Regina Liu, gave her Address by video at the virtual JSM, which incorporated Susan’s video Address. The transcript of the two addresses is below.

Regina Liu: It’s a great honor to be the IMS President, and to present this IMS Presidential address in the 2021 JSM. Like many other things in this pandemic time, this year’s IMS Presidential Address will be also somewhat different from those in the past. Besides being virtual, it will be also given jointly by the IMS Past President Susan Murphy and myself. The pandemic prevented Susan from giving her IMS Presidential Address last year. In keeping with the IMS tradition, I invited Susan to join me today, and I am very pleased she accepted my invitation. Now, Susan will go first with her 2020 IMS Presidential Address. Please join me in welcoming the IMS Past President Susan Murphy.


Susan Murphy: It was an honor to be the President of IMS during 2019–2020. It was also stressful to be the President of IMS in 2019–2020.

It was the best of times, as well as the worst of times. It was the best, because of all the wonderful people I was privileged to work with, and it was the worst due to the multiple tragedies and painful events that occurred.

In Fall 2019, I came in with this agenda that I wanted to improve involvement in IMS by all researchers and, specifically, with a special emphasis on new researchers. And we made great progress! By “we” I mean thanks to the then-leaders of the IMS New Researchers Group (NRG), Alex Volfovsky and Bailey Fosdick, as well as the IMS Council. Now, the NRG has an ex officio appointment on the IMS Council so they can be aware of what’s going on in IMS. Further, the program committee for our IMS Annual Meetings will now include a representative from the New Researchers Group, and this group will organize an invited session.

Also, two of our most important committees are the Nominations and Special Lectures committees. And now these committees will include a New Researcher (an individual who is less than or equal to 10 years from their PhD). So, my thanks to Alex, Bailey, and the IMS Council for seeing this initiative through.

Not only did we want to provide various avenues for new researchers to become more involved in our society, IMS, but also we wanted —​ actually, we need —​ more involvement from all IMS members. Thus, the IMS Council decided that at each standalone IMS annual meeting (every four years, starting with the 2022 London meeting) approximately half of the IMS invited sessions will be competitive. This allows IMS members from all over —​ small universities, big universities, small research centers, big research centers —​ to submit a proposal for an invited session. In fact, there’s a call for proposals on the website of the 2022 IMS Annual Meeting in London [https://www.imsannualmeeting-london2022.com/call-for-proposals], so now’s the time to submit your proposal for an invited IMS session [note that the submission deadline is now September 15, 2021]!

Through heroic and persistent efforts Liza Levina and David Madigan have over multiple years and with multiple IMS presidents, including our current one Regina Liu, led our efforts to start an IMS Data Science journal. They have succeeded! In Fall 2021, the ACM/IMS Journal of Data Science will be open to submissions, so now is the time to start thinking about that paper that you want to submit this Fall.

So I’ve given you a number of “best of times”. I have to get to the pandemic, which epitomizes the worst of times. This too, though, is still mixed with some best times, due to efforts by individuals.

So, with this pandemic, of course, everything went haywire, and in many areas of the world right now, this continues to bring grief. In late March 2020, I was forced to send a message to all IMS members that, due to the pandemic, the Bernoulli Society/IMS World Congress 2020 would be postponed to 2021. We were all going into isolation.

However, we were really fortunate that our partner, the Bernoulli Society, led by their President, Claudia Klüppelberg, along with Leif Döring, suggested we try a new approach to conducting a conference, namely following the path of the highly successful One World Probability Seminar, to hold the first Bernoulli Society/IMS One World Virtual Symposium. Leif was like a one-man hurricane! He ensured the successful completion of all the critical parts to pull this off, it was fantastic. If you didn’t get to attend, I suggest you Google “Bernoulli Society/IMS One World Virtual Symposium 2020” and you’ll see the list of all the speakers and the many interactive events. There were approximately 3000 registered attendees —​ think about that, it’s fantastic! I participated in some of the interactive events and they really gave me a lot of hope —​ this was last summer, I needed some hope —​ and I began to see that, despite the pandemic, we will continue to innovate and find ways to connect with one another. It was great.

Of course, at that time, a year ago, we didn’t realize that a year later —​ now —​ this pandemic would still be with us and, in some ways it’s worse than ever.

The Bernoulli Society/IMS World Congress conference, as well as the Joint Statistical Meetings, are virtual this year and, of course, this is the reason for these comments, these virtual comments, that I am making right now.

All of you are aware of the enormous burden the pandemic has placed on people living across the world, and most recently on many of our colleagues in India. Many colleagues have family and friends who have been infected and/or killed by COVID19. So, it’s with this in mind that I want to really acknowledge the enormous debt that IMS owes to our World Congress Program Chair Siva Athreya in Bangalore, India, for his perseverance through these really hard times. Thank you so very much, Siva.

Another painful time occurred last summer, on top of the pandemic, and this required a good bit of introspection. As you know, IMS is a member society of COPSS (the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies), which used to award the R.A. Fisher Award and Lectureship. Members of COPSS, including IMS, confronted Fisher’s role, and the role of statistics more broadly, in eugenics and, in particular, how this role impacts our members today. This was a really controversial time and there were valid points on all sides and a great deal of sadness expressed. In the end, COPSS voted to retire the Fisher Award and replace it with the COPSS Distinguished Achievement Award and Lectureship.

Now, I’m going to end my statement with a pitch. This pitch is to attend our June 27–June 30, 2022, IMS Annual Meeting in London! Firstly, the Program Chair, Qiwei Yao is doing a great job organizing the meeting. Secondly, IMS has been working with COLT, the Conference On Learning Theory: this conference attracts both theoretical computer scientists and a number of probabilists, who also go to IMS meetings. Their conference, their COLT meeting, starts on July 2, so there’s one day in between the two meetings, and, on that day, IMS and COLT will run a joint workshop for both organizations. I have to confess here that I took advantage my presidency of IMS to appoint myself as one of the co-organizers of this joint workshop, along with two COLT members. We already have our speakers lined up, one of whom is IMS member Emmanuel Candès. It’s going to be great! If you register for the IMS meeting, you’ll automatically be registered for the workshop; if you register for the COLT meeting, you’ll automatically be registered for the workshop. It’s going to be a really exciting week so watch for announcements. I hope to see you in real life, “IRL,” in London, Summer ’22! Thank you.


Regina Liu continues:

Thank you Susan! Last year, when Susan and I were working on the title and abstract for this presidential address, the COVID situation was dire, although there was a glimmer of hope with vaccines to blunt the trend. We so much wanted to feel hopeful and ambitious. But the long and lingering isolation seems to have made me more reflective. Like a few other things that came out of this COVID time, this reflective mode may not be all bad. It may help us take stock of what we have become and how we can reinvigorate ourselves moving forward.

Taking stock, we certainly did. In March, we conducted a survey to assess how effective IMS is in representing our profession, and how it can better serve its members. We are grateful that more than 1800 members responded to the survey. For that, we thank them. (On that note, I hope that all members know that their input is always welcome and valued, even without the survey.)

The survey collected very useful information which will help shape our vision for moving forward. We thank Junhui Cai, Nicole Pashley and Linda Zhao for their excellent analysis and report on the survey data, which was published in our August Bulletin.

In this report, two action items stand out.

The first is “Broader Future Directions for IMS”: there is a strong wish from the respondents to see the IMS capitalize on the unprecedented expansion of our profession and grow in the directions of machine learning and data science, broadly defined, of course.

The second is on “Membership Base Expansion”: the data clearly indicate the need for the IMS to strengthen its membership drive effort, to:

(i) retain its student members after graduation and encourage them to participate in the IMS New Researcher Group (NRG), and

(ii) recruit more members from emerging areas of data science, underrepresented groups and from regions outside of North America.

The IMS leadership team are exploring ideas for carrying out these action items, including establishing a Committee on Outreach, possibly with help from outside PR professionals.

Still on the survey, I was really happy to see that many expressed their willingness to volunteer for IMS service. The IMS obviously needs you, and we would love to know who you are! Please don’t be shy and do contact us. Your participation in IMS activities is always welcome and appreciated!

Among the IMS recent exciting developments, the newly established IMS Grace Wahba Award and Lecture certainly stands out. It’s a wonderful tribute to Grace’s exceptional achievements and contributions to statistics and science in general. Grace has been a role model for many, myself included. Independently of her gender, Grace’s achievements clearly well justify this honor. But the timing of the establishment of this IMS Lecture highlights and imparts special significance to the IMS’s commitment to equality and diversity in honoring and supporting science and its members. An exciting inaugural celebration for the Wahba Award and Lecture has been planned for next year’s IMS Annual Meeting in London, with the distinguished speaker Michael Jordan. So please come and join this celebration next June.

Further on the subject of diversity, the IMS has established the IMS Committee on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, currently chaired by Nicole Lazar. Thanks to the hard work of the committee, several of their recommendations are to be implemented soon to further affirm IMS’s commitments to DEI. 

IMS has several recent initiatives to enhance its membership engagement. They include setting up the IMS New Researchers Group as a platform for networking and support among new researchers, as well as some concrete changes in IMS committee make-ups to facilitate NRG’s participation in the IMS decision-making process. Another is the setting up the IMS Watercooler Chat as an informal and convenient online platform for career development and general support for our members. The IMS leadership team will continue to find new ways to engage members. Of course, if you have good ideas for us, we would love to hear them.

Despite the difficulties in the last year and a half, the IMS did carry out most of its planned events, including the postponed 2020 Bernoulli/IMS World Congress in Seoul, South Korea, and the IMS program in this virtual JSM. On behalf of the IMS, I would like to express our thanks to the program committees for these events, especially to Siva Athreya and Hee-Seok Oh, the program and local committee chairs of the World Congress, and to Bodhi Sen, the IMS program chair of the 2021 JSM.

As mentioned in Susan’s address, the long awaited ACM/IMS Journal of Data Science will begin next year, 2022. It has a dream team of inaugural co-editors: Jelena Bradic, John Lafferty and Stratos Idreos. We can’t thank them enough for their efforts in taking on this important task for us. They have set a broad vision and an incisive plan for JDS, which will certainly mark great strides toward IMS’s growth in the direction of data science. Do watch out for the coming announcements and plan your participation and submissions to JDS.

Finally, I should point out that the IMS Presidential Address session is traditionally also the occasion for two IMS major celebrations: one is to express our gratitude to the outgoing officers and the editors of IMS journals, and the other is to celebrate the achievements of IMS award recipients. Regrettably, we’ve had to present all these acknowledgments and awards by mail. Although not nearly as personal or as ceremonious, it surely does not diminish the depth of our gratitude or the prestige of the awards. 

In particular, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our outgoing Past President Susan Murphy for her strong leadership, and the outgoing Program Secretary Ming Yuan for his dedication to the IMS, despite the disruption and turbulence from the pandemics. Last but not least, I would like to congratulate the IMS award recipients and the 41 newly elected IMS Fellows on their well-deserved honors! They make the IMS shine, and they surely make us all very proud. Thank you!