Alumni Spotlight

Michael Kosorok

Major/Emphasis: PhD in Biostatistics (University of Washington, 1991); MS in Statistics (BYU, 1988) and MS in Biostatistics (University of Washington, 1991); MM in Music Composition (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999); and BM in Music Composition (BYU, 1988)

Current Position Title: W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biostatistics and Professor of Statistics and Operations Research
Company Name: Univeristy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Why he picked his major:

At BYU, I double majored in both music composition and statistics since I wanted to be a composer but I also wanted a reliable income source. Because my coursework in statistics at BYU was fairly advanced, my degree program was switched from a BS to an MS degree so that I graduated on the same day (in 1988) with a BM in Music Composition and an MS in Statistics. Dr. H. Dennis Tolley is the person I credit most for getting me hooked on statistics. I liked statistics so much I went on for an MS and PhD in Biostatistics, but since I also continued to like music, I also completed an MM in Music Composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I was concurrently on the faculty in both the Department of Statistics and also the Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics.

How schooling helped prepare him for his current position:

I fell in love with statistics at BYU and was also introduced to biostatistics at BYU. I was thinking about premed, but I like math too much, and I learned that biostatistics is a nice compromise between math and medicine. My statistical training at BYU was nicely balanced between mathematics, theory of statistics, applications of statistics, and other sciences including biology, so that I was well prepared for graduate work in biostatistics. My music training was also broad in theory and applications so that I could likewise pursue graduate work in composition. After being on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1992-2006, I was recruited to become department chair of Biostatistics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was chair from 2006-2016 and am currently on sabbatical from being chair, and have been reappointed as chair for 2017-2022.

His advice to those currently studying:

Don't shy away from the hard parts. Rigorous training will help you wherever your career path takes you. I also feel that my activity in the church was a tremendous strength to me throughout my career in many ways. For example, the leadership experience I received in the church helped prepare me to be department chair. Dr. Tolley received his PhD from the same department I have been chairing. I find it intriguing that I served as chair in the department that the person who introduced me to statistics received his PhD from, and that he chaired the department where I was introduced to statistics, and, moreover, that for a time we both served as chairs simultaneously.


Joseph Ollivier

Major/Emphasis: BS in Statistics (BYU); MBA (Stanford University) 

Why he picked his major:

I chose statistics because I got to advanced calculus and realized the pure math was not for me. I wanted something more practical to use in business.

How schooling helped prepare him for his current position:

My statistics degree really did not prepare me for most of the positions I held during my business career, however it did lend credibility to reputation and ability to think critically. Some of the positions I have held since graduating are: Senior Analyst for TWA, Chairman, Board of Directors for Bonneville Bank, President, Western Well Services, President First Capital Funding, Adjunct Professor, Marriott School of Management (34 years), President, Mountain Oil, President Datagen (Now Precision Concrete Cutting), founder Utah Angels Venture Group.

His advice to those currently studying:

Make sure you have a path laid out after graduation. Jobs that use pure statistics are difficult for undergraduates. I'd be glad to talk with any current students. At 75 my work experience is extensive.