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Ed Perkins

Ed Perkins

Canada research chair in probability | University of British Columbia | Class of 1979

“Weak American draft beer” aside, Ed Perkins’ four-year stay across the border was a fruitful one.

“I came here as a foreign student, was given a scholarship and superb training, and then sent on my way back to Canada,” he says. “It was part of a generous and far-sighted investment in humanity which surely is paying dividends all over the planet.”

Perkins (Ph.D. ’79), renowned for being one of the world’s most influential researchers in probability theory, was a 2019 recipient of the UI’s Mathematics Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement.

Returning to C-U got the University of British Columbia professor thinking back to his days on campus.

“I spent 1975 to 1979 obtaining my Ph.D. at the math department at the UI because it was the best place in North America to learn probability theory,” he says. “At the time, I didn’t realize that the training I was receiving was extraordinary — it is only after spending a career in the field that I now realize how fortunate I was.

“I learned potential theory from Joe Doob, one of the founders of modern probability; martingale theory from Don Burkholder; almost sure invariance theory from Walter Philip; diffusion theory from Frank Knight, who became my supervisor and to whom I owe so much; and the general theory of processes from Catherine Doleans-Dade.

Bruce Hajek and I would usually ask Professor Doleans-Dade for a second lecture after class, delivered during a slow walk to her office. What we learned from her in a term at warp speed— it was at the edge of what was humanly possible — about stochastic analysis turned out to be critical for the development of my research career.

“Years later, I asked her why she taught at a such a rate. She said, ‘Well, you and Bruce seemed to be following so I thought I should go faster.’

“It was not just the academic excellence that UI offered but also the warmth and friendship that came with it. Friday afternoons, we would continue our studies at Murphy’s Pub. Jerry Uhl would often lead a bunch of us over there and this was really an essential part of our education as we compared notes with students from other fields. We learned what was happening in the large and were forced to explain to others why what we were doing was so interesting.

“Having to do this while drinking weak American draft beer made the exercise all the more challenging.”