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David Annis


M.S. Industrial Engineering 2000, M.S. Statistics 2001, Ph.D. Statistics 2003

Vice President, Wachovia Bank

Written by: Shannon Knapp, Ph.D. candidate in Statistics 

Ever wonder if it is better to punt or go for a first down on 4th and short? Do you feel frustrated with the Bowl Championship Series and lack of playoffs in college football? David Annis does. As founder of SportsQuant, David uses statistical, operations research and mathematical techniques to answer these and other vexing questions in sports. The SportsQuant system to rate (and thus rank) teams was a product of his dissertation work. It explicitly incorporates teams' wins and losses, their point totals (both scored and allowed) and home-field advantage into a quasi-likelihood from which he estimates the ability of each team. The estimation procedure generalizes many classical paired comparison methods and is robust to model misspecification (which can drastically affect the ratings/rankings for more conventional models). David has also explored the playoff systems and scheduling for college football. He found that having a playoff system with 8 teams was approximately optimal (and 4 teams still worked pretty well), but ultimately "it doesn’t matter how you implement a playoff system, as long as you implement it." In fact, his research indicates that "you wouldn’t even need a [post-season] playoff if you did a better job scheduling teams during the season," for example by "leaving out teams you would obviously beat" and replacing them with more competitive opponents.

David Annis earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida and went to work as a aerospace engineer for Pratt and Whitney, designing compressor hardware for aircraft engines. He earned a Master’s in Industrial Engineering by taking advantage of Pratt and Whitney’s incredible educational policy, which paid in advance for courses at any accredited institution. David chose Purdue for its superior reputation and the Continuing Engineering Education (CEE) program, which allowed him to take his classes by video while working in Florida and Maine. Prior to entering the CEE program, he had only taken one statistics class as an undergraduate, "I hated it. I never wanted to do that again." But he took several statistics courses during his Industrial Engineering M.S. "I got to see how things worked instead of being given a lot of formulas with no explanation." He recalls particularly liking Basic Probability and Applications (STAT 516) with Professor Thomas Sellke. So in 2001, he came to the West Lafayette campus full-time to study Statistics.

After finishing his Ph.D., David worked as an Assistant Professor in the Operation Research Department of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. But after two years, he accepted a Vice President position with Wachovia Bank (now Wells Fargo Bank) and moved to North Carolina. He spent his first year with Wachovia in Structured Transitions and Analytical Research and now works in Internal Audit. His role in Audit is a new position, one that he is defining as he goes. He provides expertise in mathematical modeling to investment banking auditors. He talks to the people building, validating and ultimately using the model and evaluates whether the assumptions and implementations are reasonable. "I go to way more meetings than I ever thought I would." However, in his new position David appreciates "seeing a lot of things at a high level – a little bit of this and a little bit of that."

Comparing academia and the private sector, David says the best part of academia is the research. "When you have a problem you are interested in and can just do it all day, you don’t have to do a cost-benefit analysis on why you should be doing this work." However the worst part of academia is "when you don’t have a compelling idea for research. That’s depressing because you know there are problems that need solving." In the private sector, though he works long hours, he appreciates that he doesn’t "work all weekend long like when you’re tenure-track. When you go home, you go home."

David Annis lives in North Carolina with his wife Izabela (M.S. Statistics 2001).

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