Calculating odds nets professor big prize

The Royal Society of Canada selects Prof. Christian Genest as recipient of the John L. Synge Award in mathematics for his world-leading research in statistics

Devising ways of estimating the probability of rare events is a big part of what Professor Christian Genest does each day in his statistical research. He may not have predicted, however, that he would be the 2020 recipient of the John L. Synge Award, as conferred by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) for outstanding research in any branch of the mathematical sciences.

This award, which is issued on an irregular basis, has been given nine times since 1986. Genest is the first statistician to receive it. “It is gratifying to see the importance of modelling dependence and its impact in risk management recognized this way,” said Genest. “I am honoured to be included among the illustrious company of this award’s previous winners.”

Christian holds a Canada Research Chair in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Martha Crago, Vice-Principal of Research and Innovation also commented: “Professor Genest has long been recognized as one of the most significant scholars in his field in the past 30 years. The Royal Society’s award confirms his status as one if the preeminent minds in statistical research in the world today. I offer him my sincere congratulations for this achievement.”

Genest, who holds a Canada Research Chair in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, is no stranger to awards and citations. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, he was the 2011 recipient of the Statistical Society of Canada’s Gold Medal for Research and was awarded last November a Humboldt Research Prize from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

As mentioned in the award’s citation, Genest’s “seminal work in copula modelling, extreme-value theory, and collaborative decision making led to a transformative understanding of the impact of dependence in risk assessment.” It hints to the fact that while statistical theory may seem like an abstruse area of study to lay readers, it has important applications to daily life.

When pressed for examples, Genest says: “With smart students and colleagues, I have recently been involved in building models to improve the determination of capital reserves for automobile insurance by taking into account the complex structure of claims, which frequently include multiple claimants for the same event and different kinds of benefits. A few years back, we also played a part in developing a comprehensive flood insurance product for Quebec.”

In work funded by the Trottier Institute for Science and Public Policy, Genest and his collaborators are currently fine-tuning a new method for estimating the intensity, duration, and frequency of extreme precipitations anywhere in Canada, even at unmonitored locations. Known as IDF curves, these models are commonly used by Hydro-Québec and civil engineers for urban drainage design.

Whether he is talking shop with research statisticians or working on applied projects with end-users, Genest considers communications to be an integral part of a scientist’s job. He is a prolific author with extensive experience as an editor, and a highly sought-after speaker who has given over 300 talks and named lectures in a host of venues around the world. Closer to home he has also delivered talks in most CEGEPs in the province. He has a solid reputation as a popularizer of science and has won various teaching awards throughout his career. He is also well known for being a generous and considerate mentor to the sixty-odd graduate students he has supervised.

Considering these many accomplishments and qualities, it is therefore no surprise – nor a statistical anomaly – that Genest should be so acclaimed.


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