I have had a very fulfilling forty-plus-year career in science as a statistician. Besides teaching and mentoring students, my career has had two other integral parts. One is the development of new statistical methodology and the other is the application of existing statistical tools in collaboration with other scientists for the purpose of new scientific discovery. In reflecting over my career, it is very clear to me that my religious faith has impacted and enriched my career in some fundamental ways.
Scientific discovery can be so very exciting and competitive that it can be totally engrossing. Some of my coworkers tend to become “workaholics” in pursuit of discovery, setting aside other “distractions,” working single-mindedly to be the first to solve a specific problem. Were it not for some firmly rooted religious practices in my life, including Sabbath Day observance, I too would probably have become consumed with the quest for scientific discovery with resulting neglect of other personal and family values. Instead I have found, and bear testimony, that Sabbath Day observance has had a very positive impact on my career. For me, Sabbath observance implements one of the great natural laws of human endeavor, namely that, in any intense effort, a proper rest gives added perspective and renewed strength. In my life, an effective rest is not physical inactivity with my mind still engaged in scientific matters, but rather total absorption in a completely different activity. Focused religious contemplation and engrossing service in the Church provides a beneficial rest for the mind. Time and again, not only in my professional career but also in my studies long ago, I have witnessed how Sabbath Day observance has blessed me professionally. It seems paradoxical that the absence from scientific activity in body and mind for short periods could be so beneficial in scientific pursuits, but that has clearly been the case in my career.
My religious faith has blessed me in another way that is not so empirically transparent. Over my career, I have also been invited to assume various ecclesiastical callings, including serving twice as a bishop and as a member of a stake presidency. I do not have data to prove it statistically, but I have noticed that periods in which I was the most involved in ecclesiastical callings were also the periods during which I was the most successful professionally, for example in the production of scientific papers. I have not promised such a positive correlation between Church work and professional success to others. But I do bear testimony that, as I have been engaged in the work of the Lord, dedicating time and emotional energy to that work, He has blessed me with inspiration to prosper professionally. In this as well as in other ways, it has been cherished experience to accept personally challenging Church assignments in faith, and then to witness the hand of the Lord blessing one to accomplish the Church work and at the same time to thrive professionally.
A recent manifestation of the Lord’s inspiration in scientific pursuits occurred during the humanitarian mission that my wife and I served in Syria (2008-2010). In addition to pure humanitarian work, my duties included serving as a faculty member at Damascus University. The Lord blessed me to be very productive professionally, despite the limited resources, as a means of serving others and representing the Church. It was a marvelous experience to witness again such science-related inspiration.
I bear personal testimony that my religion, besides being a source of strength in my professional life, has also brought great joy in my personal life and in family life for my wife and me.
James Matis is a Professor Emeritus of Statistics at Texas A&M University. He received a BS in Mathematics from Weber State, an MS in Statistics from BYU, and a PhD in Statistics from Texas A&M. He has been on the faculty of Texas A&M since 1970.
He is a fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA) and an elected Member of the International Statistical Institute. He received the Founder’s Award, the highest honor from ASA, for “outstanding leadership . . . advancing statistical education.” He also received university-level Distinguished Achievement Awards in both Teaching and Research from Texas A&M. He has published over 150 scientific papers appearing in over 40 journals, and has been a consultant for business and government agencies. His international experience includes service as a statistical expert for the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), twice to India and once to the People’s Republic of China. He was twice awarded a Fulbright research fellowship from the US State Department to India and, on another occasion, was awarded an Indo-American fellowship to India. He has also taught in South Africa, and was recently a faculty member at Damascus University for two years as part of an LDS service mission.
Posted November 2011