Dr Kate Lee uses Bayesian statistics to quantify uncertainty

27 March 2019
Dr Kate Lee, Lecturer, Department of Statistics
Dr Kate Lee

New Department of Statistics lecturer Kate Lee came to her speciality subject, Bayesian statistics, later in her academic studies, and she’s very glad she did: “It’s a fascinating way to quantify uncertainty.”

Bayesian statistics is an approach to applying probability to statistical problems, giving statisticians the mathematical tools to update beliefs about random events in light of new data or evidence about those events.

It’s named after Thomas Bayes, who developed the theorem underpinning the approach in the 1700s.

But Kate wasn’t aware of all of that when she started her first degree, a Bachelor of Technology majoring in optoelectronics at the University of Auckland. She took primarily physics papers and some mathematics papers.

“Strangely enough, I didn’t take a single paper in statistics,” she says.

Kate then did a Master of Science in applied mathematics, where she encountered Bayesian inference and computational statistics – and knew she’d found her specialist subject.

She pursued a PhD in statistics at Queensland University of Technology, exploring models that combined Bayesian hybrid algorithms and models.

“The thesis was about how each algorithm/model contributes in a hybrid form and how this affects overall performance.”  

She has applied Bayesian inference to problems in areas as diverse as food science, sport science, image detection and engineering.

Kate worked at AUT before joining the University of Auckland's Department of Statistics.

She's teaching three courses this year, Statistical Modelling (STATS 762), Data Analysis (STATS 201/208) and Introduction to Bayesian Statistics (STATS 331).

Kate’s hopes for her students, she says, boils down to two things: “I want them to learn how to use statistical methods and models appropriately and draw useful information from data. But on top of that, I would like them to become independent thinkers and creative and responsible people who become constructive members of society.”

Originally from South Korea, Kate migrated to New Zealand with her parents, completing her secondary schooling here.

When she’s not at work, she likes planning travel, dog walking, and hiking in native bush. You’ll also find her in the city’s art galleries, enjoying art from the late 19th century and early 20th century.