Presidents and Vice Presidents

Our President represents the best of our Society and the discipline of statistics and as chair of our Council, has a decisive influence on our policy and activities.

We now select our Presidents on the basis of their acknowledged statistical achievements and contribution to the progress of the discipline. But before the 1970s our Presidents were not always from the statistical community. Past Presidents have included Prime Minister William Gladstone and social reformer Sir William Beveridge, as well as experts from the field such as William Guy, a 19th century luminary. Go to our Past Presidents page to find out more.

Current President - Deborah Ashby

Deborah Ashby is director of the School of Public Health and holds the chair in Medical Statistics and Clinical Trials at Imperial College London. She is the fourth woman to become president in the Society’s 185-year history.

Deborah is Honorary Member of both the Faculty of Public Health Medicine and the Royal College of Radiologists. She was awarded the OBE for services to medicine in the 2009 New Years Honours List, was appointed an NIHR Senior Investigator in 2010, and elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2012.

After studying a mathematics degree at the University of Exeter, she took her masters at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine followed by a PhD and postdoc at the Royal Free, which is now part of University College London. She then took up a lectureship at the University of Liverpool in a joint post across the mathematics department and the Department of Public Health where she spent 11 years, followed by 11 years as a chair at Queen Mary University back in London. She has been at Imperial College for ten years where she was founding co-director of the Clinical Trials Unit, then appointed deputy head of school and more recently, head of school.

Deborah’s research interests are in clinical trials, risk-benefit decision making for medicines, and the utility of Bayesian approaches in these areas. She has chaired the NIHR HTA Commissioning Board and is chair of the Population Research Committee for Cancer Research UK.

Over her career she has carried out research on cystic fibrosis studies, heart disease, cancer, and dementia and depression in the elderly. She also spent many years on the government committee for the regulation of medicines.

As well as academic and government roles, Deborah has also engaged in public-facing work. After taking part in the Academy of Medical Sciences’ award-winning media training for women she has been on BBC2’s 'Newsnight' to discuss cancer research findings, BBC Radio 4’s 'Inside Health' to explain adaptive trials, and 'More or Less' to talk about the RSS Statistics of the Year and her new Presidency. She has even appeared on a 2018 Christmas Special alumni version of the BBC’s ‘University Challenge’.

Deborah has been a member of the RSS for many years, which, she says, has helped her to ‘keep up-to-date with wider developments in statistics and data science as well as keep me abreast of how statistics are being used in other areas.’ After joining the Society’s Medical Section, she became its secretary in the late 1980s. She spent six years on the Society’s Council and then Honorary Secretary for a further six years, where she worked on member, events, conference and governance issues. Since then she remained active in the Society, and chaired its 175 Anniversary Committee, as well as its first Long Term Strategy review.

Her Twitter page is @Deborah_Ashby and her profile page is at

Vice Presidents

John MacInnes, Vice President for Professional Affairs

John MacInnes is associate dean (quantitative methods) and professor of sociology at the University of Edinburgh, a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a chartered statistician. He is a member of the British Academy’s High-Level Strategy group on Quantitative Skills, the advisory panel for Maths in Education and Industry and the Data Skills Taskforce. From 2009 to 2014 he was the strategic advisor to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) on quantitative methods training, issuing two reports that eventually led to the Q-Step programme. Since 2015 he has been strategic advisor on quantitative skills to the British Academy.

Much of John’s current work focuses on statistical literacy and the promotion of quantitative methods within the social sciences. His own research focuses on population ageing and the measurement of age structures of populations. He has held research grants from the European Commission, ESRC, British Academy, Leverhulme trust and British, Spanish and Catalan government departments; he is a member of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods and sits on the scientific advisory board for the Nordforsk Nordic Programme on Health and Welfare. He has published around 100 journal articles, book chapters and monographs.

John is a current member of the Professional Affairs Committee and has taken on this role for one year, from January to December 2019.

Jennifer Rogers, Vice President for External Affairs

Jennifer is the Head of Statistical Research at PHASTAR, moving in August 2019 from the University of Oxford where she was Director of Statistical Consultancy Services and an Associate Professor in the Department of Statistics. She had previously worked as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Statistics funded by the National Institute of Health Research. She has a special interest in the development and application of novel statistical methodologies, particularly in medicine. Jennifer graduated with a BSc in Mathematics and Statistics from Lancaster University and remained at Lancaster to complete her MSc in Statistics. She has a PhD from the University of Warwick, where she developed models for point processes with cure fractions.

She has been a highly active member of our Society, having previously sat on the West Midlands local group and the Young Statisticians’ Section. She was appointed as the Guy Lecturer in 2014 and has been a Royal Statistical Society Council member since 2015. She has also held the position of Honorary Officer for Meetings and Conferences.

Jennifer is an experienced science presenter and can regularly be found talking all things statistics in schools, museums, theatres and pubs, including being a regular speaker for Maths Inspiration. Notable media appearances include the BBC production ‘Long Live Britain’ and the ITV documentary ‘Mystery Map’, as well as many interviews on BBC Radio.

Jonathan Forster, Vice President for Academic Affairs

Jon is Professor and Head of Department of Statistics at the University of Warwick. He has a BA in Mathematics, a Diploma in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Cambridge and a PhD from the University of Nottingham. He has held academic appointments at Loughborough and Carnegie Mellon Universities and the University of Southampton, where he was head of the School of Mathematical Sciences from 2016-19.

He has published widely on statistical methodology and applications in various fields; he is co-author of Kendall's Advanced Theory of Statistics (Vol 2b: Bayesian Inference) and was awarded the 1999 Guy Medal in Bronze from the Royal Statistical Society for his work on computational statistics. Jon's recent research has focused on statistical approaches to demographic estimation and forecasting.

For the Royal Statistical Society, he has served as a Research Section committee member (1997-2000) and Secretary (2000-2), elected member of Council (2003-7), member of Executive Committee (2005-7) and theme director for publications (2010-13, Council and Executive Committee ex officio). He was chair of the editorial board of Significance magazine from 2010-14 and has been associate editor for Series B and Series C RSS journals.

He was chair of the UK Committee of Professors of Statistics from 2007-2010 and has held external examining and other advisory roles at a wide range of UK Universities. In 2019 he was a member of the advisory group for the Pearce review of the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Sharon Witherspoon, Vice President for Education and Statistical Literacy

Sharon Witherspoon is Head of Policy at the Academy of Social Sciences. She also currently sits on the Senior Salaries Review Board, where she is involved in a major review of judicial salaries, and is a Trustee of Full Fact.

Sharon worked for several years in applied social science research, designing and carrying out evaluations of government programmes in the 1980s, and serving as part of the original research team on the British Social Attitudes survey. She was at the Nuffield Foundation, a grant-giving endowed charitable trust, for 19 years, first heading its programmes of social research and social policy, and then for three years as Director. While there, she led the development of the £19.5m Q-Step programme, funded jointly by the Nuffield Foundation, the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), to improve quantitative research skills for UK social science undergraduates.

She was awarded an MBE for services to social science in 2008, received the British Academy President’s Medal in 2011, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by University College London in 2015 for services to social sciences and law.