Long term international co-operation in Statistics with India

written by Tapio Nummi

Professor (retired) Bikas Sinha visited in our faculty during 30.10.-3.11.2017. During his visit he gave a course entitled ”Reliability Estimation” for the students in Statistics. The course is just one realization of the long term co-operation that have been continued for more than 20 years. To set more light to the topic I decided to make an interview. Here are my questions and professor Sinha’s answers:

1. Introduce yourself to the professional world in the area of statistics

It has been about 6 years that I retired from Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) , Kolkata as Professor of Statistics. I believe I received thorough and disciplined training in Statistics
during my undergraduate (1965), post-graduate (1967) and doctoral (1972) studies in Statistics under Calcutta University. In 1972 I was inducted as the Youngest Faculty in the Calcutta University Department of Statistics (CUDS). I went to Brazil with a Visiting Faculty Assignment and stayed there for almost 4 years and upon my return, I joined ISI, Kolkata in 1979 as Associate Professor. I was promoted to Professor at ISI in 1985. I retired from there in 2011.

I have travelled extensively with academic assignments and so far I have more than 90
research collaborators spreading over a few continents. Incidentally, I also have a twin brother who is attached to UMBC, USA as a Professor of Statistics. We are referred to as ‘IMS Twins’.

2. Why did you choose statistics for your career?

This is an interesting question indeed. We have to go back to 1961-1962 and around that time most people had no idea about the subject of statistics and it was wrongly understood as ‘statics’… We had no idea about the subject at all… We were inspired By a group of three ‘scholars’ who had topped in the university exam from one undergraduate college that year. Prompted by this ‘news’, we got admission in the same college and took statistics as our “honours” subject with mathematics and physics as “pass” subjects. It was a three-year degree course (1962-1965). We followed it up By Master’s Degree in Statistics (1967) and then Doctorate Degree in Statistics (1972) as well. It took some time for us to have a flavor of the subject matter. Indeed we had highly motivating teachers at all levels in the Calcutta University System.

3. Would you tell us some highlights of you career?

Joining ISI was itself the turning point in my academic career. I got opportunities to collaborate with ISI Probabilists / Statisticians at any length. I also started having opportunities for academic visits abroad, mainly in the USA and Canada. I must mention that my collaboration with Prof. Kirti Shah of the University of Waterloo, Canada and with Professor A S Hedayat at the University of Illinois at Chicago, USA went exceedingly well for many years. Books, Monographs and journal publications followed and students also joined in our collaborations. I was appointed ‘Expert on Mission’ for the UNO to join a Team of Delegates for conducting a course in Guinea Bissau, West Africa for a period of 3 weeks. Also I was appointed an Advisor for USEPA for 2 months. My twin Brother (Professor Bimal K Sinha) settled in the USA in the early 1980’s. He also has been very helpful for arranging my short/long visits to US Universities.

4. Tell us about your contacts here. Also mention about your relation to Finland
and the University of Tampere.

I fondly recall those days and the history that followed. I was to visit Friedrich Pukkelsheim at the University of Augsburg, Germany in the summer of 1993 for two months. By then I knew Simo Puntanen quite well and we had met in some conferences. He became friendly to many of us. Anyway he got to know of my forthcoming visit to Germany and he immediately offered me a chance to visit his department at the University of Tampere and meet his colleagues over there. I accepted the invitation and in due course I came to Helsinki and by train to Tampere on one Sunday afternoon. He received me at the railway station and took me to a guest house. Next morning he showed up and brought me to the department. I had tea with him and his other colleagues in the Statistics Unit. To my surprise Simo proposed that I should give my Technical Talk around lunch time the same day – though I was to stay for the whole week! I did that and later I was told two persons came from Helsinki to attend my talk. In the afternoon I was shocked when Simo further told me that he would be leaving soon for Stockholm for a meeting/conference. However, he assured that there would not be any problem with my visit as was planned for one week. The Secretary would carry out all necessary formalities about my visit. That is the First Part of my visit.

I still had four more days to go. I thought within myself : I am not going to sit down in one corner office and prove some theorems for myself! I must know what others are doing here. So next morning with a cup of hot tea in my hand, I knocked at the door of one faculty… without having any prior knowledge about him / her at all… absolutely nothing… leaving it to the ‘chance’ !!! And it turned out that I had entered into Professor Erkki Liski’s room… Liski was to be my co-author for the next 10-12 years with some doctoral students at his disposal… he was the first I started interacting with very successfully.

My story does not end here… this is my second home… I have been overwhelmed By the warmth of friendship among my friends and research collaborators in this part of the world… this friendship and / or collaboration continued with Erkki Liski, Arto Luoma, Tapio Nummi, Laura Koskela, Anne Puustelli, Jarkko Isotalo, Hannu Oja,—apart from
my good old friend Simo… who had introduced me to this wonderful group of people. Regarding research funding for my visits, I got to understand that it was primarily Erkki
and subsequently Tapio who had handled this matter very efficiently.

My love for this city is exhibited by my frequent academic visits to this department and sightseeing trips by my wife, son and daughter – multiple times. My two research
collaborators from Calcutta University (Mandal and Sengupta) also had opportunities to visit this department in the past.

I was able to provide local hospitality to Tapio Nummi, Arto Luoma and Laura Koskela during their research visits to ISI at some points of time. I am thankful to Erkki and Tapio for introducing me to some interesting research areas and we had successful collaboration over several years. Research scholars like Arto Luoma are rare to find in any academic environment. This Place has a special position in my heart and mind.

I have travelled extensively within Finland… going up north to Oulu, Rovaniemi and
beyond to Ivalo and also had a visit to Nordkapp with my wife. I have seen thru the country in all seasons over all the twelve months !

At some point of time I had attended one conference at the University of Jyväskylä… which was well organized. During this visit (which took place after a gap of almost 7 years), I conducted one workshop on “reliability Estimation” and delivered one popular talk on a combinatorial problem. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The students should be quite smart, I believe. However, they do not have the culture of asking questions during the lectures.