‘Bridge the gap between statistics and the users’
Far too young and far too early Dr. Jan Engel died on 19 November 2011 following a brief illness. Jan was a principal consultant at the consultancy firm CQM, where he had worked for over 34 years. His life came to a premature end at the age of only 59.
On leaving school in 1969, Jan studied Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at the University of Amsterdam. In 1976 he graduated with first class honours in Mathematical Physics with minors in Physics and Mechanics. So, no statistics then. That is something he more or less taught himself after joining CQM. In 1987 Jan got his PhD, with special commendation, under Professor Paul van der Laan in Wageningen and since 2003 was a registered biostatistician with the VVS (Dutch Society of Statistics and Operations Research).
The bulk of his consulting work involved supporting R&D projects at Philips Research Laboratories. Jan would typically immerse himself in a research question until he felt he fully grasped how the underlying mechanism worked and it was safe to draw his conclusions. His sharp analytical skills ensured that one did not jump too quickly to conclusions. He made it clear that you should involve a statistician not towards the end but at the start of research. Jan spoke the lingo of researchers. He realized that you shouldn’t try to teach researchers statistics, but rather explain things in their language.
Besides music and hiking in the mountains, Jan had a great passion for our profession. Occasionally there was a research question for which there was no mathematical solution to hand. That he took as a challenge. It was also how his PhD‐thesis came about in the late 1980's. Written in his evenings. In the ensuing years he pressed on with his mathematical investigations. On average one publication per year, and numerous contributions to workshops and conferences. His research always aimed to bridge the gap between statistics and its users. A gap which, in his thorough and scrupulous way, he addressed through his contributions to ENBIS (European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics) conferences, his speculations in STAtOR (Journal of the Society for Statistics and Operations Research) and in his publications in professional journals with researchers from Philips. Two things struck Jan:
1. In industry and business, there is a great deal of empirical research done without involving statisticians. Sometimes resulting in false analyzes and conclusions.
2. Statistical methods have enormous potential for application in industry, provided two criteria are met: that they are 'functional' and 'useful' to the user. Statistical methods are largely developed by universities and other research institutions. Some methods meet these two criteria, many do not. As a consequence, potentially relevant techniques are in practice not applied as often as they could be.
Jan was not done. He would have liked to have worked on. Alas it was not to be. With his passion and drive, he made a major contribution to our profession, to CQM and to our customers. Our thoughts are with his wife, Saapke, his daughters, Annet and Martine, and the many others who were close to him in coping with their loss. We will continue to think of Jan with great respect and deep admiration.
Consultants in Quantitative Methods CQM