In celebration of Student Research Week (March 28-April 1) at Texas A&M University, the College of Science is taking five with five different people involved in various aspects and stages of innovative research at Texas A&M and beyond. Today’s concluding segment features Ersen Arseven ’74, who earned his Ph.D. in statistics at Texas A&M and is a 2007 inductee into the college’s Academy of Distinguished Former Students.
Arseven has served since 2005 as an independent consultant to biotechnology and biopharmaceutical businesses through the company he founded in 1992, Arseven Consulting Inc. Among other accomplishments, he was part of a team that established the anti-cancer activity of the compound Mitoxantrone, which was used for treatment of various types of leukemia and is still used for the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer. His 41-year career as a statistician has included stints with American Cyanamid Corporation (1974-84), Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals (1984-92) and Schering-Plough Research Institute (2002-05). In 2003 he received the H.O. Hartley Award, given annually to a former student of the Texas A&M Department of Statistics in recognition of distinguished service to the discipline of statistics.
A generous supporter of his department, college and university, Arseven has established four endowments at Texas A&M in memory of his late wife, Susan M. Arseven ’75, including a chair in data science and computational statistics in her honor this past year. Together with one of his classmates, Luisa Sia ’74, he also established the Anant M. Kshirsagar Endowed Fellowship in Statistics in tribute to one of their favorite Texas A&M professors.
Earlier this week, Arseven took five (well, six, given that he’s wearing multiple hats for us and therefore deserves a bonus question) with Texas A&M Science to discuss a variety of topics, from why he chose statistics, to why he continually chooses to give back as a donor to multiple causes and commitments near and dear to his heart.
Why did you decide to become a statistician and pursue an advanced degree at Texas A&M University?
“To become a statistician was not in my career plan. It is an unintended result of my desire to become an econometrician and study under prominent Professor of Econometrics Robel L. Basmann. I came to Texas A&M University from the University of Pennsylvania to study and write my thesis under Dr. Basmann, who recently had moved from Purdue University to Texas A&M and was a professor of econometrics in the Department of Economics. He advised me to take as many statistics courses as my degree program would allow. I took all the econometrics courses he taught in the economics department, and I had already taken sufficient economics courses. If later I wanted to get a degree in economics, I could do it. With his encouragement and with the help of Professor Ronald Hocking in what was then the Graduate Institute of Statistics, I transferred to Statistics, where I continued my studies and became a statistician.”
What do you consider your biggest career accomplishment(s)?
“The biggest career accomplishment of mine and my generation of statisticians working in the biopharmaceutical, life sciences and chemical industries was making significant contributions as members of multidisciplinary R&D teams — in discovery and in the development of new important products, thus establishing the essential role of statisticians and of statistical practice in these industries.”
The value of statistical analysis is readily acknowledged in these big-data-dominated days. As a pioneer who helped shape the field of biostatistics, what area(s) do you see as ripe for the next big statistics-related breakthrough?
“Statistics will always be alongside the rapidly advancing science and technology how ever and wherever they progress. Therefore, it is difficult to identify areas ripe for statistics-related breakthrough with reasonable accuracy. However, two areas beckon important statistical developments: modelling and predicting behavior of large gatherings and environmetrics. I hope both will be the focus of intensive research and development efforts.”
As someone who spent a good portion of your career in scientific research, why do you feel such efforts are important?
Research findings in natural, social and applied sciences together form our knowledge of men, our culture and our society. They shape our understanding of the world around us and our expectations for our future. We use this continuously accumulating knowledge for the betterment of our society and humanity by trying to address problems, disorders and disasters we face. Stopping or slowing down our research efforts means we will not be adding new knowledge to our accumulated knowledge stock. This will rob us of finding solutions to problems we face now and potential problems we will be facing in the future. As a nation and world, we would lose our creativity and vitality in essentially every area.”
Along those same lines, why do you feel it’s important to invest in the future of Texas A&M and its faculty and students through endowments to support chairs, conferences, fellowships and awards?
“Texas A&M University is at the threshold of becoming one of the premier universities in the nation with significant contributions to the welfare and safety of our society and humanity. However, the extent of contributions from Texas A&M University is constrained by any number of factors, including the amount of available financial resources, the quantity and quality of physical facilities, the ability to hire and keep accomplished faculty members, and the capability to attract and educate quality, talented students. Endowments to support chairs, conferences, fellowships and awards augments the university’s resources and enables it to continue to increase its contribution to society and take additional steps to reach its place among the premier universities.
“Texas A&M was generous and gave me the opportunity to continue my education, which made my life. I would like to do the same thing for other students. I benefited from Texas A&M resources, and I want other students to benefit also.”
Why should students get involved in research?
“Dictionary.com defines research as ‘diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.’ This definition points out clearly how getting involved in research benefits us — not only when doing the research, but in life.
“Research helps us develop critical thinking, define a problem, develop a detailed structured plan and carry out the plan in search of the solution. Research teaches discipline, both by working alone and as a member of a collaborative team under time constraints. It enables in-depth learning and helps us develop effective problem-solving skills. Early exposure to research may help us discover possible fields of interest. Plus, it can increase our chances of becoming more successful researchers down the road.”
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Now in its 19th year, Student Research Week is a friendly competition that highlights both undergraduate and graduate research at Texas A&M, one of the country’s top research universities. The weeklong celebration fosters an environment for students, faculty and administrators to learn about student research at Texas A&M and also gives students an opportunity to win numerous awards and cash prizes. To learn more about the week’s schedule and specific events, go to http://srw.tamu.edu/.
For more information on philanthropic support for teaching, research, service and educational outreach activities in the College of Science, go to https://science.tamu.edu/giving/.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or [email protected]