After taking about a year to work at Ziba Design after Olin, Jerzy Wieczorek attended Portland State University, where he earned his MS in Statistics. For several years after, he worked for the US Census Bureau as a Mathematical Statistician, while also volunteering with The Global Language Network as a Polish Language Instructor and Statistics Without Borders as a Website Co-Chair. In 2013, he decided to expand his education even more and began attending Carnegie Mellon University in pursuit of his PhD in Statistics. We recently had the chance to catch up with Jerzy; who gladly told us what he was up to and shared some thoughts for current students.
What would you tell Oliners who are considering grad school?
I wouldn't start a PhD program until you have a pretty clear idea about the dissertation topic you want to pursue and specific advisors you'd like to work with. Until then, there's no shame (and often better income!) in getting a Master's degree instead, then spending a few years applying your skills and learning about the field. If you decide you still want/need a PhD after that, go for it---you'll be better prepared and better motivated.
Are you able to incorporate your engineering background from Olin into what you are doing now?
I'm a grad student in a PhD program in statistics. My math background applies directly to my work. Otherwise, my Olin background in UOCD and HFID encourages me to make my papers and software more usable (though it’s still a challenge).
Do you have advice for Oliners who might be pursuing a different path other than engineering?
Go for it! I never did pursue a path in engineering after Olin, so I have no point of comparison, but this has worked for me so far.
How have you made a difference in the world since leaving Olin?
I've done volunteer consulting work as a statistician: for a local organization in DC through a DataKind datadive, and for various global research projects and survey data analyses. In the DC project (for DC Kids Count), we took an important but rarely-read report (on socioeconomic indicators of child well-being) and made an interactive visualization that has brought more attention to the needs of DC's poorest children. The global projects have involved analyzing survey data, e.g. on traumatic experiences during civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That analysis is now being used as evidence in the trial of a war criminal at the International Criminal Court.
How did your time at Olin prepare you for the real world?
Olin spoiled me for the real world :) I've worked with many good people since, but never such a strong, close, talented, supportive community as my time there.
Do you have time for fun? What do you like to do?
My wife and I just had a baby, so any free time is used for catching up on sleep! But hiking and reading are good as well.
Advice for current students?
Academically: Appreciate the facilities and learn from the skills of the people around you. For example, who knows if you’ll ever again have a chance to learn to use such a great machine shop (and with such excellent support, at any time of day, for free!).
Socially: Build bridges, be kind, and don’t take yourself too seriously. I made some of my closest friendships and fondest memories here---but I also look back and laugh/groan at how awkward I was.