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Photo by Daniel Cronin

Simon P. Couch ’21


Hometown: De Soto, Kansas

How Reed changed me: I started to grasp at the importance (and challenge) of saying exactly what you mean. I learned what statistics was, and want to spend my professional life working on it. I have much less hair.

Thesis adviser: Prof. Kelly McConville [math]

Thesis: “Wiggling Thoughtfully: Tidy Stacked Ensemble Modeling with R”

What it’s about: The first part of my thesis is a software package implementing a statistical modeling technique called ensembling. In the actual “thesis” part I argue that statistical software is not simply the intersection of mathematics, statistics, and software engineering, but is subject to its own intuitions and practices.

What it’s really about: How can I write a math thesis with as little math as possible?

In high school: I spent a lot of time making folk music, playing sports, and working for a landscaping company. I was prone to writing bad songs and thinking pretty narrowly about what education was.

Influential class: Profs. Kelly McConville and Andrew Bray introduced me to data science and statistics, to academic research, to London and San Francisco, to open-source software development, to the thought of graduate school. Their warm welcomes to new intellectual worlds changed the course of my life.

Influential book: Dorothy Roberts’s Fatal Invention changed the way that I think about race and science as an institution. Race is a political tool that creates and justifies inequality, hijacking the language and cultural power of the scientific enterprise to legitimate and reify itself. Scientists have a responsibility to call out technologies that assume and reinforce harmful understandings of race and racism.

Concept that blew my mind: Trees in the Pacific Northwest. They’re crazy.

Cool stuff I got to do: Thanks to a combination of Reed grants, I flew out to London for a week to present some research on data privacy. I drove the vans and tagged along for hikes and mountain biking with the Reed Outdoor Club most weekends my first year; played basketball with a goofy bunch of students, staff, and faculty on my lunch breaks; and worked as a tutor, peer career adviser, course assistant, house adviser, software developer, van driver, and student researcher.

Awards, fellowships, grants: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Goldwater Scholarship, John M. Chambers Statistical Software Award, First Place American Statistical Association Undergraduate Statistics Research Project, Reed Science Research Fellowship.

Challenges I faced: Early on at Reed, I often felt academically unprepared compared to my classmates. The community shepherded me to the right people at the right times, and we made it work.

Help along the way: I’m grateful to have received extensive financial aid throughout my time at Reed, including the Gregory P. and Diane LevKoy Morgan Scholarship, the Gillespie Family Student Research Fund, and the Paul K. Richter Memorial Fund.

What’s next: I’ll be starting my PhD in biostatistics at Johns Hopkins.