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Viva Voce

Prof. Poon Wai-yin: From Math Student to Pro-Vice-Chancellor

'I enjoyed my undergraduate days at CUHK tremendously. When I began to teach here, I did my best to ensure that my students enjoyed their school life as much as I did.'

Prof. Poon Wai-yin<br>
Professor, Department of Statistics<br>
UGC Award for Teaching Excellence (2011)<br>
<em>(Photo by ISO staff)</em>

What are your major responsibilities as PVC?

My area of responsibilities is in education and that includes formal education at CUHK and practically all aspects of teaching and learning, including quality assurance and e-learning. I have to work with colleagues in, say, University General Education, CLEAR, the Library, and the School of Continuing and Professional Studies to maintain the quality and efficiency of the the full range of educational services offered by CUHK.

You’ve had many roles as student, teacher, researcher and unit head at CUHK. Now you are looking at it from the top. Is the view different?

I enjoyed my undergraduate days at CUHK tremendously, taking part in sports and a lot of other activities. I was a beneficiary of the variety and vibrancy of the education, both formal and non-formal, of CUHK. When I began to teach here, I did my best to ensure that my students enjoyed their school life as much as I did. Having worked in this University for so many years and now become a member of its management team, I have a better understanding of the various challenges and limitations faced by the University and see that in order to provide our students with a quality educational experience, nothing can be taken for granted. Competing priorities need to be managed carefully and a pragmatic approach adopted in the development of space for eventual growth.

Your embarking on a teaching career has been inspired by your teachers, hasn’t it?

Yes, I was impressed and inspired by teachers from my kindergarten, primary school, secondary school and university days. I am still in contact with some of them. Each in his or her caring and unique way showed what an inspiring job teaching is. They were my role models in my formative years.

Why did you choose statistics?

My undergraduate major was mathematics. I was fascinated by the universe of mathematics where logic holds sway. I minored in statistics and economics. I did not know much about statistics then but already saw that it’s a discipline where valid knowledge can be derived through mathematical means to help us make wise decisions in the face of uncertainties or inadequate information. Isn’t this the kind of situation we find ourselves in everyday? So I studied statistics in graduate school.

<em>(Photo by ISO staff)</em>

How do you convey statistical knowledge to freshmen or the uninitiated?

To be effective, I must know their backgrounds, interests and needs, and structure my teaching materials accordingly. I also use target-oriented learning activities and assessment to challenge them to go further. In delivery, I observe their responses and monitor their progress from time to time to ensure they internalize knowledge taught at every step of the process, and to raise their interest in the subject.

How does Big Data impact the field of statistics?

Big Data is relevant to many areas; statistics is the basis of data mining and analytics. Big Data has opened up many possibilities in research methodology and application, and brought about opportunities for interdisciplinary research.

Why did you go for an MBA after you began teaching at CUHK?

I was involved in curriculum design and student service very early on. Back then it was common for students of statistics to feel that the curriculum may not help broaden their career prospects. I knew that statistical tools were employed in many facets of business administration, like finance, marketing and project management, so I enrolled in an MBA programme to gain a systematic understanding of the subject and the applications of statistics in business administration. Using what I learnt, I designed a new course ‘Applications of Statistics in Business’, highlighting how statistical know-how can be put to good service in the commercial context. I hope the course can increase students’ interest in learning statistics, enhance employment prospects, and contribute to their positioning and development in the job market.

What do you enjoy most besides teaching and university administration?

I meet up quite frequently with friends that include my former teachers and students. During long holidays, I go on road trips in different countries with family and friends. I enjoy driving very much.

This article was originally published in No. 463, Newsletter in Sep 2015.

Poon Wai-yin Pro-Vice-Chancellor alumni UGC Teaching Award Department of Statistics Faculty of Science