President 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 based on their acknowledged statistical achievements and contribution to the progress of the discipline. Past Presidents have included former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson 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 - Sylvia Richardson
Sylvia Richardson is director of the MRC Biostatistics Unit and holds the chair of Biostatistics at the University of Cambridge since 2012. Prior to this, Sylvia held the chair of biostatistics at Imperial College London from 2000, and was formerly Directeur de Recherches at the French National Institute for Medical Research INSERM, where she held research positions for 20 years.
Sylvia has worked extensively in many areas of biostatistics research for 40 years and made important contributions to the statistical modelling of complex biomedical data, in particular from a Bayesian perspective. Her work has contributed to progress in epidemiological understanding, and has covered spatial modelling and disease mapping, measurement error problems, mixture and clustering models, as well as integrative analysis of observational data from different sources. Her recent research has focused on modelling and analysis of large data problems such as those arising in genomics.
Sylvia is a fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and of the International Society for Bayesian Analysis and was elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2016. She received an honorary degree from the University of Oslo in 2017 and was awarded a CBE for her services to medical statistics in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List. She has also been awarded the RSS Guy Medal in Silver and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award.
In 2020, Sylvia founded and currently co‐chairs the RSS Covid‐19 Task Force, which engages a network of RSS members. She has given evidence at UK parliamentary inquiries on ‘UK Science, Research and Technology Capability and Influence in Global Disease Outbreaks’ and ‘Data Transparency and Accountability: Covid-19’. Sylvia is also member of the International Best Practice Advisory Group, which advises the International Comparator Joint Unit, a joint analytical task force run by the Cabinet Office and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
An RSS fellow since 1979, Sylvia was a member of our Research Section 1995-98, a Council member 1998-2002 and chaired the Publication Review working party, helping to launch our flagship magazine, Significance. She was Honorary Secretary for Publications and member of the Executive council 2003-06.
Sylvia is the fifth woman to become president in the Society’s 187-year history. She is passionate about the importance of advancing the statistical discipline and of promoting good statistical understanding and is excited to be taking on the role of president, saying: 'It has been a tremendously challenging year for the world - a year that has tested all of us. I am proud of the RSS’s response to the pandemic and will continue to focus on the work of its Covid-19 Task Force, contributing our collective expertise to help society. I will also champion a strategic exercise related to recent developments in data science and the new perspectives that are being opened up. I hope that all the Society’s fellows will contribute to this exciting strategic reflection.'
Twitter page: @srichardson962
Rachel Hilliam, VP for Professional Affairs
Rachel Hilliam is a senior lecturer in statistics at the Open University, where she has held various leadership roles. As director of teaching for mathematics and statistics, she introduced a new degree in Data Science which had over 400 students across the UK in its first year in 2019. She is an expert in teaching statistics at higher education level to adult students who do not necessarily have standard university entrance qualifications. In addition to university academic roles, she has worked as the medical statistician for Derby Hospitals NHS Trust.
At the RSS she chairs the Professional Affairs Committee and is a member of the Special Interest Group in Teaching Statistics. She is also an RSS university accreditation assessor.
Christl Donnelly, VP for External Affairs
Christl Donnelly CBE FMedSci FRS is professor of statistical epidemiology at Imperial College. Her research brings together and develops statistical and biomathematical methods to analyse epidemiological patterns of infectious diseases. She also has interests in ecology, conservation and animal welfare.
Christl was elected a fellow of the Royal Society (2016) and the Academy of Medical Sciences (2015) and is an Honorary Fellow of the ZSL Institute of Zoology. She was a member of RSS Council (2001-05) and again since 2018. In 2016-17 she was the RSS William Guy lecturer and last year chaired the RSS Florence Nightingale 2020 planning group. Christl is currently a member of the RSS Covid-19 Task Force.
Jonathan Forster, VP for Academic Affairs
Jon is professor and head of the Department of Statistics at the University of Warwick. 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. 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 RSS Guy Medal in Bronze. In 2019 he was a member of the advisory group for the Pearce review of the Teaching Excellence Framework.
At the RSS he has served on the Research Section committee, Council, chaired the editorial board of Significance magazine and has been associate editor for Series B and Series C RSS journals.
Sharon Witherspoon, VP 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, and serving as part of the original research team on the British Social Attitudes survey. She was at the Nuffield Foundation for 19 years, first heading its programmes of social research and social policy, and then for three years as Director. While there, Sharon led the development of the £19.5m Q-Step programme, funded jointly by the Nuffield Foundation, the UK ESRC, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), to improve quantitative research skills for UK social science undergraduates.
Sharon 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.