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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Obit for Richard Dudley

Richard M. (Dick) Dudley died on Jan. 19, 2020 (NOT from Coronavirus).You can find obituaries for him  herehere, and here and an interview with him from 2019  here.


Professor Dudley worked in Probability and Statistics. His work is now
being used in Machine Learning. Here is a guest-post-obit by
David Marcus who had Prof. Dudley as his PhD Thesis Advisor.

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Guest Blog Obit by David Marcus:

Dick was my thesis advisor at M.I.T. After I got my Ph.D. in 1983, I went
to work in industry, so did not work closely with him, as some of his other
students did. But, I enjoyed working with him very much in graduate school.

Dick was very precise. His lecture notes and articles (and later his books)
said exactly what needed to be said and didn't waste words. In his classes,
he always handed out complete lecture notes, thus letting you concentrate
on the material rather than having to take a lot of notes.

Dick was very organized, but his office had piles of papers and journal
articles everywhere. There is a picture here.

Before Dick was my advisor, I took his probability course. My orals were
going to be towards the end of the term, and I was going to use probability
as one of my two minor areas. So, I spent a lot of time studying the
material. Dick gave a final exam in the course. The final exam was unlike
any other final exam I ever took: The exam listed twelve areas that had
been covered in the course. The instructions said to pick ten and for each
area give the main definitions and theorems and, if you had time, prove the
theorems. Since I had been studying the material for my orals, I didn't
have much trouble, but if I hadn't been studying it for my orals, it would
have been quite a shock!(COMMENT FROM BILL: Sounds like a lazy way to make up an exam, though on this
level of may it works. I know of a prof whose final was

Make up 4 good questions for the final. Now Solve them.

)

Once Dick became my advisor, Dick and I had a regular weekly meeting. I'd
tell him what I'd figured out or what I'd found in a book or journal
article over the last week and we'd discuss it and he'd make suggestions.
At some point, I'd say I needed to think about it, and I'd leave. I never
did find out how long these meetings were supposed to last because I was
always the one to end them.(COMMENT FROM BILL: It's good someone ended them! Or else you might never
had graduated :-) )

When I began working with Dick, he said he already had a full
load of students, but he would see if he had something I could work on. The
problem Dick came up with for me to work on was to construct a
counterexample to a theorem that Dick had published. Dick knew his
published proof was wrong, and had an idea of what a counterexample might
look like, so suggested I might be able to prove it was a counterexample.
In retrospect, this was perhaps a risky thesis problem for me since if the
student gets stuck, the professor can spend time figuring out how to do it.
But, in this case, presumably Dick had already put some effort into it
without success. Regardless, with Dick's guidance, I was able to prove it,
and soon after got my Ph.D.(COMMENT FROM BILL: Sounds risky since if Dick could not do it, maybe it's too hard.)

In 2003 there was a conference in honor of Dick's 65th birthday. All of his
ex-students were invited, and many of them attended. There was a day of
talks, and we all went out to dinner (Chinese food, if I recall correctly)
in the evening. At dinner, I asked Dick if any of his other students had
written a thesis that disproved one of his published theorems. He said I
was the only one.(COMMENT FROM BILL: Really good that not only was he okay with you disproving
his theorem, he encouraged you to!)


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