Jing Shyr

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Ph.D. 1984

Senior Vice President and Chief Statistician SPSS, Inc.

"I have a tremendous passion about how statistics can influence society so we can make better decisions using data," said Jing Shyr. She is the Senior Vice President and Chief Statistician of SPSS, Inc., a company that develops statistical software for a broad range of businesses. "If you know how to collect and use data, you will be a much more effective manager," she said. For example, a medical device company might come to SPSS with data about defects and the problems they have caused for customers and will ask for assistance in how to use the information. "If you can navigate your historical data, then you are able to prepare your technical support in an efficient way," said Shyr. "You can educate them and give them focus." Better trained technical support staff shortens call times and lessens customer frustration. "This is the kind of software that I feel very passionate about," she said. "It’s helping our daily life and helping us to do things more efficiently."

Shyr fell into the area of statistical software somewhat by accident. After graduating from Purdue with a Ph.D. in 1984, she took a position teaching in the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. "The reason I picked that school amongst the offers I had was because I was really interested in applied statistics, though my degree was a Ph.D. in mathematical statistics," she said. "I found that when I was teaching statistics, I was always teaching the students mathematics. Statistics becomes so boring if you don’t have examples to show. What is behind this math? I was unable to give my students good examples." Shyr thought that if she taught in a department other than mathematics, she would not have the same problem. "But when I was at Vanderbilt, I found myself in the same corner. The MBA students were curious but had little patience for math. They would challenge me, ‘Why should I learn this? Math is hard, and it’s boring, and there’s no meaning.’ I was unable to explain how math is involved in their decision making."

After two years at Vanderbilt, Shyr decided to go into industry and see how people were using statistics. "My main motivation was to apply statistics to the real world," said Shyr. "SPSS was recruiting; I was lucky, I got the position." Shyr started at SPSS as a Ph.D. Statistician twenty years ago. "My job was to design the algorithms for them to implement in the software. I told them, I really want to do technical support. Not only do you learn the software, but you can also learn what problems people have. You can ask them about what do they do. People were so shocked that I was willing to take technical support responsibilities, since it is a lower level job. But I learned tremendously from engaging with our customers." What Shyr learned about the company helped her rise to her current level of Senior Vice President. "The position I have right now I think is because of my curiosity and my passion to make a difference," she said.

Also instrumental to Shyr’s success is her experience at Purdue. "The Purdue training is so solid," she said. "When I encounter a new area of statistics, it’s very easy for me to pick up articles and to read books. I can jump into any field. That has allowed me to be very dynamic, because at a statistics software company, you cannot restrict yourself to the area in which you did research."

The community Shyr found at Purdue also had a positive influence on her future. "When I came to Purdue from Taiwan, I did not speak any English. There were so many people, professors and the staff in the department, and my fellow students, who were so helpful. Everybody wanted to teach me. It was like a family," Shyr said. "I didn’t know how to return their favor, so the only way I could was to help other people. That experience and that practice have allowed me to make so many friends. I never expect people to give me anything back, because I couldn’t give anything back to the people who helped before. That’s why people ask me for help, because of my attitude. That experience has carried me very far," she said.

To current Purdue Statistics students, Shyr advises, "Somebody who wants to get into my career, you have to know how the company works. As a student right now, it’s very hard to join a professional group. If there’s anything that is going to help, it’s an internship and volunteering." Shyr said that she was restricted from obtaining an internship while at Purdue because she had a foreign student visa. "If I had the chance to start all over, I would start the internship and volunteer work as an undergraduate," she said. "Statistics is a wonderful tool and an excellent way of having a career. It doesn’t matter if you’re in healthcare or manufacturing, even if you do research. Data is so essential to everything, and statistics is a must-have if you want to move your career to the next level."

Jing Shyr received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Purdue University, College of Science in 2000. Click here to read more.

To read more Alumni Profiles, please visit our Alumni Profiles archive.

Last Updated: Oct 2, 2017 4:25 PM

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