BYU professor of statistics Lynne Nielsen is a leader in her field

576dd240f1ee6-imageYou may have noticed the diversity among the women I’ve spotlighted in this column. I intentionally look for women with differing backgrounds, careers and interests. This week I’m honored to spotlight Lynne Nielsen, a BYU Associate Statistics Professor and Ph.D. candidate. Lynne’s life and her work are fascinating. I especially enjoyed learning about her Women Stats Project that seeks to make the linkage between the status of women and the fate of nations visible and demonstrable. I think you will love learning about Lynne and reading her five pieces of advice for women.

Paula Fellingham: What was your life like growing up?

Lynne Nielsen: I was born and raised in the Philippines; I am the eldest of six children. My father was an electrical engineer and he encouraged all his children to get a college degree.

While in college, I was involved in the student movement that sought to oust former President Ferdinand Marcos. I learned to make “molotov cocktails” and pill bombs when my fellow students battled with the police. I majored in Math and my first job after graduation was that of a high school math teacher in a private school for girls run by Catholic nuns.

My father didn’t want me to be a teacher for life so he helped me find a job with the Philippine government. I was hired as a statistical researcher for the government entity that provided electric service to rural households and businesses. Since I had no statistical training, I was sent to the U.S. Bureau of Census Office in Maryland for a couple of months to be trained in data processing and survey methodology. My primary task was to conduct a nationwide survey to measure the socio-economic impact of rural electrification. This was a fun job and I was able to visit all the main islands and cities in the Philippines. I was encouraged by the U.S. Census Bureau consultants I worked with to obtain a graduate degree in Statistics and they highly recommended BYU when they learned I was a member of the LDS Church. I was admitted to BYU’s Master’s Program and graduated when I was expecting my first child.

PF: What is your life like now?

LN: I’m now a single mother of five children (three boys and two girls). My youngest child graduated from high school last month and will be a freshman at BYU this fall. I’m also a grandmother of four (three girls and one boy) and enjoy babysitting on weekends.

I’m an Associate Teaching Professor of Statistics at BYU and a Ph.D. candidate in BYU’s Instructional Psychology and Technology program. My research interests are the effectiveness of online and blended learning environments, and developing survey instruments that measure learner autonomy, math anxiety, and attitude towards statistics. I was also invited to collaborate with two political science professors in the Women Stats Project which seeks to make the linkage between the status of women and the fate of nations visible and demonstrable. This collaboration has produced three published articles, thus far, and resulted in being awarded a $1 million Minerva grant by the Department of Defense. On Sundays, I teach a [LDS] Primary class of 9-10 year olds. I have a very busy but rewarding life!

PF: What is your biggest challenge?

LN: My biggest challenge is knowing how to balance my work, school, and family responsibilities and still have time for myself. My weekday schedule is pretty structured. I deal with this by telling myself that my Ph.D. work will be completed in a year’s time! Afterwards, I’m looking forward to having more time to visit my mom and two sisters who live in Australia, and my eldest son who lives in Washington DC.

PF: What is your biggest success?

LN: I think my biggest success in life is being able to raise a seemingly happy and well-adjusted bunch of kids! I got divorced when my eldest child was 14 and my youngest was 2 months old.

PF: What advice can you share with other women?

LN: My first advice is to live a healthy lifestyle: eat well-balanced meals, get some exercise and enough sleep.

Second, get a good education or training.

Third, seek help when needed. Having a clean and organized home has always been a priority with me, so I’ve asked a cleaning lady to help me and my family keep our house clean. I’ve also hired a lawn service company to take care of our yard. My daughters love to cook so I’ve allowed them to shop for and prepare our meals. I find washing the dishes relaxing and therapeutic, so this is my family chore.

My fourth piece of advice is to make time to do the things that you like and enjoy. I like to walk in the early mornings so I wake up before seven on Saturdays and Sundays and walk for a couple of miles around our neighborhood which has a gorgeous view of Utah Lake and the surrounding mountains. Having walking buddies is a plus! I also like listening to the music I grew up with and watching old musicals. My kids say they’ve been brainwashed into liking Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, the Carpenters and the Lettermen. And for family get-togethers, we sometimes watch the “Sound of Music,” “South Pacific” and “Singing in the Rain.” But each child also gets a chance to choose a movie the whole family will watch.

My fifth and last piece of advice is to study the scriptures until the printed words become the voice inside your head. Trust in God and believe in miracles. Miracles enabled me to come to BYU as a student and later as a faculty member. “Keep praying but be thankful, God’s answers are wiser than your prayers.”

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