Jeffrey Rosenthal

Photo by Liam Sharp

And Now, for His Next Number…

As a professor of statistics, he's got his nerdy side. But as a budding musician and comedian, he's also got his spontaneous side.


Jeffrey S. Rosenthal is a Professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Statistics. We asked him everything from what he likes most about being a researcher to what he is reading in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a scientist?
As an academic, I like the freedom to work on projects of my own choosing, rather than what some “boss” tells me to do. This has allowed me to work on everything from mathematical work with a close colleague in England, to interdisciplinary collaborations with researchers in fields as diverse as Law, Medicine, Psychology and Computer Science, to writing a book for the general public and doing media interviews.

Plus, as a scientist, I get to try to really answer important questions about the way the world works. The answers aren’t always perfect and the projects don’t always come together the way you hope, but at least I get to try.

What advice would you give young researchers?
Research is hard work, so you have to be patient and persistent, and not get discouraged when projects take a long time or don’t lead to good answers. It’s important to specialize in a specific subject to become a real expert, but it’s also good to branch out, and to be open to learning lots of different topics and working with lots of different sorts of people, to expand your reach as much as possible.

(For more about this, young researchers might enjoy reading my book chapter.)

What are you reading right now?
I just started reading “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, about a post-apocalyptic future in which all technology stops working. Generally I like reading science fiction and other speculative fiction, which gets us thinking about different possibilities and ideas.

On the other hand, I find that reading takes a fair amount of effort, so I have to admit that after a long day at the office, I am more likely to relax in front of the television than with a book.

What do you like to do for fun?
I have quite a few hobbies, including performing music and improvisational comedy, and it is satisfying to succeed at something quite different from typical scientific work. I also enjoy cycling, watching movies, and socializing with friends at restaurants and shows and over board games and more.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?
Well, close to my own profession, I like computer technology and would enjoy being involved with large-scale technology projects, like helping computers identify photographs, or constructing robots, or that sort of thing. I also have some interest in politics, and have considered getting more involved in that, but I couldn’t stand all the negativity of it. In a different direction, if I could become a famous musician or comedian then that would be exciting too — though in reality it is very difficult to make serious money from such activities.

Aside from things for your survival, what item would you most want to have with you on a deserted island?
Well, the true and nerdy answer is that if it were possible, I would like to have a laptop with internet service — that is how I keep in touch with the world! But if computers were out, then perhaps I would choose a guitar, so at least I could keep myself entertained.


Want to learn more about Prof. Rosenthal’s research? Check out our blog on March Madness Math Secrets.