Interview with Paul Bürkner

October 9, 2020 / Sabine Sämisch

On 1st October, Paul Bürkner started to work for SimTech. He is the first junior research group leader to do so. A good opportunity to introduce him a bit more.

Maybe you can introduce yourself briefly. Where do you come from? What have you done so far?

I was born in Marburg. In 2010, I started studying Psychology in Münster. When Psychology alone wasn’t enough anymore, I started studying Mathematics at the FernUni Hagen. After finishing my studies of Psychology and Mathematics (both M.Sc.), I finished my doctorate in Psychological Statistics in Münster in 2017 under Prof. Holling. After a short PostDoc time in Münster, I spent the last one and a half years in Helsinki, Finland, at Aalto University with Prof. Vehtari for a PostDoc in Computer Science with a focus on Probabilistic Machine Learning. Both my time in Münster and the one in Helsinki were really nice and I learned a lot. 

You are a statistician. What are your focuses and in which direction have you done research so far?

My research in the broadest sense is mainly in the field of Bayesian statistics. This is a type of statistics that is directly anchored in probability theory, since it assigns probability distributions to all (observed and unobserved) variables of a statistical model, and then makes statements about the unobserved variables conditionally on the observed variables. I discovered the fun of Bayesian statistics during my doctoral thesis and since then it has been my passion.

What are you plans and goals as a junior research group leader?

I would like to deepen my focus on Bayesian statistics, but also extend it in new directions, for example at the interface between interpretable statistical models and black box machine learning models. To do this, I first have to set up my own work unit and raise additional third-party funds. Of course, I should continue to publish diligently, so there is a lot to do. The next four years at SimTech will certainly be an exciting time.

Which will be the main topics?

Much of my current and future research is focused on developing a Bayesian workflow for data analysis that helps analysts (in academia, business and the public sector) to model and interpret their data in a principled Bayesian way from the design of the studies to the final decisions. Among other things, computer algorithms are to be developed to help with data evaluation. It's almost like having a statistician sitting next to you, except that it is a computer program. Such a whole workflow including automation is of course a very extensive project. Therefore, I will not work on it alone, but cooperate with many scientists at home and abroad.

What do you expect from the cooperation with and within SimTech?

The position as Independent Junior Research Group Leader at SimTech is super attractive from a research perspective, as I will be able to concentrate on my research and the supervision of my (future) PhD students. I also appreciate the interdisciplinary of the cluster, from which my research and I personally think I will benefit a lot.

Do you have any open positions to fill?

I have not yet advertised any vacancies, but this should happen in the next 1-2 months. Potential candidates should have fun with statistics and not be afraid of some mathematics. Previous experience in Bayesian statistics is an advantage but not a must. My unit will work at the interface of statistics, computer science and psychology and will be interdisciplinary. Therefore, I am very open to applications from different disciplines. My research projects, on which my co-workers will work, are directly applicable to the data analyses of thousands of people all over the world. Candidates can expect an inspiring and supportive research environment with strong international networking. Close supervision of my doctoral students in particular and the simultaneous promotion of their independence in scientific work is of great importance to me.

Have you ever been to Stuttgart? Do you know the city?

Except for a few passages by train, I have unfortunately never been to Stuttgart before and I am already very curious what to expect!

What are you looking forward to?

I am very much looking forward to working with other scientists within the Cluster of Excellence and affiliated institutes. Already in the last weeks, I have received a lot of support from SimTech, for which I am very grateful. All the Independent Research Group Leaders will be housed together in one building, which I believe will create a great working atmosphere. Of course, I am also very much looking forward to explore Stuttgart.

What did you want to become as a little boy?

I asked my mother and she didn't really know which and if I had any dreams about my profession as a child at all. Even during my studies, it was by no means clear that I would become a scientist. But today I am very grateful to have decided to go this way.

Quickly asked:

Movie or book? Movie
Mountains or beach? Both
Champagne or sparkling water? Depends on the occasion J
Watch sports or do sports? Do sports
Car or bike? Bike…if possible
Cat or dog? Cat, I love cats!
Cinema or concert? Cinema
Early riser or night owl? Night owl
Greta or Donald? Greta!

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