My year as a William Guy Lecturer: An interview with Lee Fawcett

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We caught up with Dr Lee Fawcett, a senior lecturer in statistics at Newcastle University, about his year as William Guy Lecturer, whose lecture 'The Storm of the Century!' has been delivered to more than 1,500 students, parents and teachers in the UK and abroad.

The RSS William Guy Lecturer is a prestigious volunteer role at the Society, which recognises fellows with a successful track record in undertaking school outreach activities.

Named after former RSS president William Augustus Guy (1810-1885) - also the namesake of our prestigious Guy medals - the first Guy Lecture was given by Adrian Smith on 29 April 1999. Since then, it has been offered to schools and colleges across the UK, with many distinguished speakers having taken on the role, including Christl Donnelly and Sir David Spiegelhalter.

Lee Fawcett was appointed as William Guy Lecturer for the academic year 2018/19. His lecture, 'The Storm of the Century!' explained how data can be used to anticipate extreme climate events. Using the famous Hurricane Katrina as his starting point, Lee's lecture was about the importance of modelling extreme sea fluctuations so that governments can plan for potential catastrophic weather events. Lee's lecture involved audience participation, who were asked to estimate the probability of reaching different maximum sea heights using the Gumbel model.

'What a busy year it has been!' he says. 'I have been overwhelmed by the level of interest in the lecture, which has literally taken me across the length and breadth of the UK. Since March 2019 I have spoken to over 1,500 people, including school students in year seven (ages 11/12) through to students in year 13 (ages 17/18), as well as many parents and teachers. My lecture has taken me from Glasgow and Aberdeen to Plymouth; London to Manchester; and to several outreach and public engagement events in the northeast of England.'

During research visits overseas, Lee was also able to present to audiences in Cyprus, Hong Kong and China. However, the one he found most difficult was much closer to home. 'My most nerve-wracking lecture was at a school in Cheltenham when the 2017/18 William Guy Lecturer – Dr Jeff Ralph – came along!'

Although busy, Lee has found the overall experience of being William Guy Lecturer very rewarding. 'My experience as William Guy Lecturer has been fantastic,' he says. 'It has been a privilege to promote the study of statistics to audiences all over the UK (and beyond!), and the level of enthusiasm I have found across the age ranges has been astounding – especially amongst younger audiences and parents and teachers! It’s great to see so many budding statisticians engage with statistics and (hopefully) appreciate the role of our discipline in the real world.'

Lee plans to continue to use his 'Storm of the Century!' talk as part of his outreach and engagement role at Newcastle University. 'I believe my spell as William Guy Lecturer has improved the talk immeasurably,' he says. 'I am sad that my term as William Guy Lecturer is now coming to an end, but hope the next Lecturer will have just as much fun as I have had!'

Read more about the topic of Lee's William Guy Lecturer - as well as many previous Lecturers - in our Speaker Pool list (PDF).

You can read more about the history of the William Guy Lecturer on our dedicated page. We will be announcing the new William Guy lecture shortly.

William Guy lecturer

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