What are the odds?

It is statistically improbable that a Harvard teaching award open to all graduate students for the past four years would go to members of the same department. Adding to that improbability is the fact that the department in question is among the smallest at Harvard: Statistics.

To be fair, five graduate students each year win the Derek C. Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching of Undergraduates, which comes with a $1,000 prize. But only Statistics students have won in all four years. Three other departments have had winning students twice: English, Classics, and Psychology.

Winning the Bok Award from Statistics this year was Kari Lock. Previous winners from the department: Yves Chretien (2009), Paul Baines (2008), and Paul Edlefsen (2007).

In an e-mail, department chair Xiao-Li Meng, the Whipple V.N. Jones Professor of Statistics, delivered news “with extreme delight.” He also offered this head-breaking inference problem: “What is the chance that we will win again the next year? The award is given to five teaching fellows per year among those who have achieved a 4.5 or above course rating. This year, 751 teaching fellows made it to the 4.5 cutoff point, out of over 2,000 teaching fellows in total.”

— Corydon Ireland

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