The Department of Statistics is pleased to congratulate Professors Michael Perlman, Werner Stuetzle, and Jon Wellner on their retirements from the University of Washington. They have each contributed over 35 years of service to the department and the university, and have influenced generations of statisticians through their research, teaching, and mentoring.

Michael Perlman

Michael Perlman received his M.S. degree in Mathematics and Ph.D. in Statistics from Stanford University in 1967. He joined the Department of Statistics at University of Washington in 1979, following appointments at University of Minnesota and University of Chicago. At that time, the Department of Statistics at UW was just being established as a department. He was the founding faculty member and became the first Department Chair from 1979 to 1984, and he also served as Acting Chair from 1999 to 2000. 

Over the course of his academic career, Perlman’s research has centered around multivariate analysis, graphical Markov models, decision theory, probability inequalities, convexity, inference for stochastic processes, and statistical education. His research led to over 100 refereed journal publications, and has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation in Statistics and Probability and the National Security Agency in Multivariate Analysis.

In recognition of his work, Perlman was named an Erskine Fellow, a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS), and a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA). He was also elected as a member of the IMS Council. 

Mathias Drton, a Professor of Mathematical Statistics at University of Munich and Affiliate Professor at University of Washington, completed his Ph.D. under the supervision of Michael Perlman. Drton recalls that he became interested in statistics during his undergraduate studies in Germany, when he had the great fortune of meeting Perlman’s Ph.D. advisor, Ingram Olkin, and close collaborator, Steen Anderson. “Both were in Germany for sabbaticals, and we students got to talk quite a bit with these famous and, for us, oddly approachable professors from the U.S.,” he says. “So I was aware of Michael’s work when arriving in Seattle and decided to take his multivariate statistics class, which was wonderful. Graphical models made an appearance and I was hooked.” 

Drton then added, “I learned a lot of statistics from Michael. I also learned a great deal from him about how to write a paper, how to do peer reviews, and about all the other parts of academic life. Once I was ready to graduate and apply for jobs, he was extremely supportive. I could count on his support at every stage of my career.”

Perlman has successfully advised five Ph.D. students at University of Chicago and four Ph.D. students at the University of Washington.

After 41 years at UW, Perlman retired in June 2020.

As for plans after retirement, Perlman says, "I’m continuing my research in multivariate analysis, decision theory, and inference for stochastic processes. Once social and travel restrictions are ended, I plan to further this ongoing work in visits with old friends, students, and colleagues in Seattle and around the world.  Fortunately, my grandchildren Evelyn (age 8) and Charlie (age 5) are in Seattle and teach me new things almost daily, especially about computers."

Werner Stuetzle

Werner Stuetzle received his M.S. degree in Mathematics in 1973 and his Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1977, both from ETH Zurich. He joined the Department of Statistics at University of Washington in 1984, following appointments at the IBM Zurich Research Lab and Stanford University. He served as Chair of the Department of Statistics from 1994 to 2002. From 2006 to 2016, he served as Divisional Dean of Natural Sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences. 

Stuetzle’s research involves nonparametric methods in multivariate analysis, statistical applications of computer graphics, and scientific computing. His research led to 45 refereed journal and conference publications, and has served as a Principal Investigator (PI) or a Co-PI on 12 federal grants. 

Trevor Hastie, a former Ph.D. student of Werner Stuetzle and the John A. Overdeck Professor of Statistics and Biomedical Data Science at Stanford University, recalls his encounters with Stuetzle as a student. “Werner taught my first class in Applied Statistics at Stanford in the Fall of 1980. He was a terrific and fresh teacher, and we got the ETH ‘Peter Huber’ view, which has stayed with me.” 

It was through Werner that Hastie received a Research Assistantship at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), which was run by his colleague and collaborator Jerry Friedman. Hastie later joined a research group that Stuetzle formed with Rob Tibshirani, Andreas Buja, and Jerry Friedman.

“Werner is a very clear thinker, digging deep for the essential essence of ideas, and he set a very good example for us,” says Hastie. “I feel Werner has had a big influence on me, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities in those early years together. For me it was a no-brainer to ask Werner to be my advisor, and he shared a project with me that eventually became my thesis ‘Principal Curves and Surfaces.’” 

Stuetzle has advised eight Ph.D. students at the University of Washington.

After 36 years at UW, Stuetzle retired in June 2020.

As for plans after retirement, Stueztle intended to go to Germany, go biking with his Swiss friends, and visit the Greek Islands with his partner, however with the COVID-19 pandemic happening, he is not sure yet. Stuetzle says, “I feel like I'm starting a new phase of life. It's exciting. I am not worried that I will be bored. Something will come up. I'm not in a rush. Having free time is a great luxury. I intend to enjoy it.”

Jon Wellner 

Jon Wellner received his Ph.D. in Statistics from the University of Washington in 1975, under the supervision of Galen Shorack. He later joined the Departments of Statistics and Biostatistics at the University of Washington in 1983, following an appointment at the University of Rochester.

Over the course of his academic career, Wellner’s research has centered around large sample theory, theory of empirical processes, statistical inference under shape restrictions, and efficient estimation for semiparametric models. He has published over 110 refereed journal and conference papers, and four books. In addition, he has served as Principal Investigator (PI) or a Co-PI for over 10 federal grants.

In recognition of his work, Wellner has been named a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS), a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA), a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute (ISI).   In 2010, he was made a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, in recognition of his many research collaborations with Dutch scientists.

Wellner served as co-Editor of the Annals of Statistics (2001-2003), IMS Editor of Statistics Surveys (2007-2009), and Editor of Statistical Science (2011-2013).  He also served on the IMS Council (2007-2010), and as IMS President in 2016-2017.

“Jon was a great advisor and mentor to me,” says Marloes Maathuis, a former Ph.D. student of Jon Wellner (and Piet Groeneboom) and Professor of Statistics at ETH Zurich. “He was very generous in sharing his time and his extremely broad knowledge of statistics. I am especially grateful for the style of research that he taught me: how to pick problems, how to adhere to high standards of mathematical rigor, and how to carefully prepare papers. I've noticed lately that I am trying to transfer this style to my own students as well.” 

Maathuis also mentioned that “Jon also had an eye for human aspects.” She arrived in Seattle to start her Ph.D. studies at UW shortly after 9/11. “Jon and Vera must have been shocked themselves, but also realized that this must be rather unpleasant start in a new country for me. So, they made me feel welcome in the U.S. by inviting me to stay in their home until I found a place to live. I will always remember this exceptional gesture of hospitality.”

“Jon Wellner is one of the most influential researchers in Statistics of the 21st century,” says Florentina Bunea, another former Ph.D. student of Wellner and Professor of Statistics and Data Science at Cornell University. “He has pioneered the field of Semi-Parametric Statistics and laid the foundations of Empirical Process Theory for Statistics. His books Efficient and Adaptive Estimation for Seimparametric Models and Weak Converge and Empirical Processes have shaped and will continue to shape generations of researchers.” 

Bunea also mentioned, “His amazing scholarship and personal integrity have been an inspiration throughout my career, starting from the graduate school years, when I have been fortunate enough to have Jon as an advisor.”

Wellner has successfully advised four Ph.D. students at University of Rochester and 27 Ph.D. students at the University of Washington.

After 37 years at UW, Wellner retired in June 2020.

As for plans after retirement, Wellner intends to continue skiing and climbing, to get back to an old hobby, photography, and perhaps write one more book.  

Additional readings:  
(1)      Banerjee, M., and Samworth, R. (2018).  A Conversation with Jon Wellner.
(2)      Biostatistics article: Jon Wellner retires