Choose statistics, and you'll choose well every time!

Posted on October 30, 2021

NAS Featured scientist
Dr Johan Ferreira - Senior Lecturer in the Department of Statistics

Q: Why did you choose to study Statistics?
 Initially, for me, statistics was a by-product of my undergraduate studies – it was core to my BSc, but in the end, it chose me in a way. I was fortunate to find an excellent mentor early on in my studies, who turned out to become a supervisor, mentor, and subsequent revered colleague and collaborator – Prof Andriette Bekker. I'm convinced an essential component of successful studies is who you study with, and not where – the logo on your degree doesn't put in the hours with you, but who you study under does!

Q: Why is Statistics important?
 Statistics is so pliable! My focus is on fundamental theoretical statistics - I'm someone who enjoys not being wrong often – and it's never easy to lie with mathematics. On the other hand, the huge advantage in this day and age is our access to computational power: big data focus areas and data analytics, together with visualisation. These are aspects rooted in statistics, yet essential for almost any other discipline or interest that humans have. If you've got statistics in the bag, machine learning and big data in any field or focus of your choice become second nature.

Q: Highlights of your career so far? |
 I am fortunate to have graduated with my PhD degree at 27, which is a career highlight. Secondly, being selected as a fellow of the African Science Leadership Programme in 2018 based at Future Africa – a huge and valuable stepping stone for my academic and scientific journey. Thirdly, as a keen traveller, I am fortunate to have travelled to six of the seven continents by the age of 25!

Q: Please give us a glimpse of your most recent research. 
 I've invested some intellect recently into probabilistic entropy, where I have a brilliant PhD and a master's student working with me in this field. Entropy is an indication of how much information lies in a particular, yet uncertain system. I recently published a paper on how this relates to wireless networks. Besides this focus, I also have a serious focus on different definitions of mixture models and have some brilliant students working with me in this field. Much of our applied focus here is to model financial returns and certain types of data observed over time.

Q: Describe a day in the life of Dr Ferreira.
 My day can be pretty varied. There's usually a bit of postgraduate research work, my research work, and a bit of undergraduate teaching every working day. Also, I am a professional freelance musician in addition to my "full time" job at UP – I recently recorded for an upcoming Netflix production, and I perform with a variety of professional orchestras around SA regularly. So in the evenings, I practice and prepare for any freelance work that I come across.

Q: What qualities does a good scientist need?
 It seems almost silly to say "curiosity", but that is an important quality that aids any good scientist. Science is also filled with many politics and distractions that regularly come across our minds, so I'd also say the ability to fill your mind with peace at will is an essential quality for good science. Finally, the want and need to think about things regularly – it's crucial! I regularly come to the self-realisation of how well-suited my work is: I'm building a life out of thinking - either thinking myself (research) or teaching others how to think well (teaching and supervision).

Q: What words/beliefs do you live by?
 Unfortunately, I can be quite the procrastinator, so the words "If you leave it to the last minute, it'll only take a minute" stands out to me. But I don't recommend it to anyone else!

Q: Who is your role model/mentor?
 Prof Andriette Bekker will likely remain my mentor for many years to come - she is my research mom. My actual mom, Dr Annalize Ferreira, is an absolute continuous role model to me as well.

Q: Do you have any advice for prospective statisticians.
Three pieces of advice! Firstly, some people are there to help you become a great statistician – make sure to find them. Secondly, no one else understands what's going on either – try statistics out anyways! Thirdly, don't fall into the trap of buzz words to make a career – no one else knows what buzz words mean anyway. Instead, choose statistics, and you'll choose well every time.

- Author Martie Meyer
Published by Martie Meyer

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