A conversation with Alan Gelfand

Brad Carlin, Amy H. Herring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alan E. Gelfand was born April 17, 1945, in the Bronx, New York. He attended public grade schools and did his undergraduate work at what was then called City College of New York (CCNY, now CUNY), excelling at mathematics. He then surprised and saddened his mother by going all the way across the country to Stanford to graduate school, where he completed his dissertation in 1969 under the direction of Professor Herbert Solomon, making him an academic grandson of Herman Rubin and Harold Hotelling. Alan then accepted a faculty position at the University of Connecticut (UConn) where he was promoted to tenured associate professor in 1975 and to full professor in 1980. A few years later he became interested in decision theory, then empirical Bayes, which eventually led to the publication of Gelfand and Smith [J. Amer. Statist. Assoc. 85 (1990) 398-409], the paper that introduced the Gibbs sampler to most statisticians and revolutionized Bayesian computing. In the mid-1990s, Alan's interests turned strongly to spatial statistics, leading to fundamental contributions in spatially-varying coefficient models, coregionalization, and spatial boundary analysis (wombling). He spent 33 years on the faculty at UConn, retiring in 2002 to become the James B. Duke Professor of Statistics and Decision Sciences at Duke University, serving as chair from 2007-2012. At Duke, he has continued his work in spatial methodology while increasing his impact in the environmental sciences. To date, he has published over 260 papers and 6 books; he has also supervised 36 Ph.D. dissertations and 10 postdocs. This interview was done just prior to a conference of his family, academic descendants, and colleagues to celebrate his 70th birthday and his contributions to statistics which took place on April 19-22, 2015 at Duke University.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-422
Number of pages10
JournalStatistical Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.


  • Bayes
  • CCNY
  • Duke, Gibbs sampling
  • Music
  • Spatial statistics
  • Stanford
  • UConn


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