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A Scholar and a Gentleman wins medal for best Statistics Paper

Actuarial Science Associate Professor Iain MacDonald has become the first UCT academic to win the coveted Sichel Medal which is awarded annually by the SA Statistical Association for the best paper published the previous year in a peer-reviewed journal.

Professor MacDonald proved that he is both a scholar and a gentleman – on hearing he had won the prize, he wrote a Thank You note to Mrs Hilda Sichel, widow of Professor Herbert Sichel, after whom the prize is named.

The medal came into existence in 1997 in memory of Professor Sichel, a statistician who made great advances in both theoretical and applied statistics, pioneering the science of Geostatistics as well as Operations Research in South Africa.

Professor MacDonald said: “I have written to his widow in Israel to thank her as Herbert Sichel was one of the grand old men of the SA Statistical Association. I recall that he was an extremely courteous man and always interested in young people and their work.”

The prize has been highly contested over the years, and has been previously awarded to other universities, but never before to UCT.

Professor MacDonald’s research interests span applied probability; new time series models, especially for discrete-valued observations; hidden Markov models and their extensions; as well as stochastic volatility models in finance. He holds a B.Sc. Honours degree in Mathematics from UCT and a M.Sc. in Mathematics from Oxford. He earned his Ph.D. in Mathematical Statistics from UCT.

The SA Statistical Association awarded two medals: one to Professor MacDonald and the other to co-author Professor Walter Zucchini, now at the University of Göttingen but formerly at UCT. Their winning partnership began many years ago and has produced inter alia their 1997 book on hidden Markov models. More recently they have collaborated on the book Hidden Markov Models for Time Series: An Introduction Using R, which is due to be published next year.

For Professor MacDonald, the latest medal is just the cherry on the top of an award-winning year. In July he achieved recognition for Best Contributed Paper from Africa at the International Biometric Conference in Dublin.

Congratulating him on his achievements, Dean of the Faculty of Commerce Professor Melvin Ayogu said he takes great pride at Professor MacDonald’s achievement in bringing home the Sichel medal.


Professor Iain MacDonald in Dublin (Middle)


Posted 17/11/2008 by Carolyn McGibbon

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