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Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Mathematics of Life, Survival, and the “Goodness-of-Fit”

Photo: Stephen Hansen
Stephen Hansen, Interim Dean, College of Arts and Sciences at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville writes, "When you are born, what do you suppose the chances will be that you will reach age 5 or 65? How about 95? Zenia Agustin, a professor in the department of mathematics and statistics at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, knows." 

“Basically, I am interested in modeling the time to occurrence of certain events,” she explained. Agustin studies and teaches statistical modeling called “goodness-of-fit,” a way to predict certain kinds of events, like birth and life expectancy. “For example, we can statistically examine a repairable component so we can understand when and how many times it will fail. Or, in the case of a person, we can know the probably of recurrence of a disease. My interest is in finding a statistical model that makes use of all available information.”

She said that her work deals very much with predictions – and the ability to make good ones. The goodness-of-fit test can help determine whether a model is feasible and whether or not it makes good predictions. For example, the kind of statistical model Agustin develops can tell an engineering firm how long it can expect a piece of machinery to work, which parts are likely to wear out first and how many times it can be repaired before it is better to buy a new one. The most obvious examples of Agustin’s research impact insurance companies and pension firms, which need to know how long we are expected to live.

Photo: Zenia Agustin
Agustin earned her undergraduate degree and master’s degree in mathematics at the University of the Philippines, where she specialized in actuarial science. Actuarial science is the application of mathematics and statistics to assess risk. Insurance companies, financial firms, and most industry are all very interested in this kind of mathematics because it helps determine everything from when a piece of machinery might fail to when you should retire. Agustin worked as an actuarial consultant for three years before deciding to immigrate to the United States to study at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She quickly earned a second master’s degree and a Ph.D. in mathematics and statistics. Agustin accepted a job offer from SIUE as soon as she received her Ph.D., nearly 18 years ago and has been here ever since.

Source: The Edwardsville Intelligence

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