Rice doctoral student researches Bayesian modeling frameworks in Florence

Partnership between Rice and the University of Florence enhances student research in statistics and data science

Mauro Florez stands on a balcony in Florence overlooking the Duomo and other landmarks

Mauro Florez, a fourth-year doctoral student in statistics (STAT) at Rice, traveled more than 5,500 miles to work on his thesis.

“I worked with Prof. Anna Gottard in Florence, Italy. She was supportive and helpful and I made a lot of progress,” said Florez, who recently returned from more than three months spent working on his research at the University of Florence.

In 2021, Rice and the Italian university signed an agreement to establish international cooperation between the schools focusing on statistics and data science. The objective is to enhance research and teaching collaborations by exchanging undergraduates, doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty between the departments of STAT and computer science at Rice and STAT, computer science and applications at the University of Florence.

Florez is the latest Rice student to benefit from the program. His research concerns graphical models. “The goal of my project,” he said, “is to propose Bayesian modeling frameworks for the estimation of graphs that identify relationships or dependencies between data of different types. Graphs can enhance our understanding of relationships among variables and have applications in many areas, including healthcare and social sciences.”

Marina Vannucci, the Noah Harding Professor of STAT, was the driver of the cooperation agreement between the schools and serves as the program coordinator at Rice. The University of Florence is her alma mater, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. in statistics. She is Florez’s doctoral adviser.

Florez worked in Gottard’s research group. She is director of the Florence Center for Data Science and an expert in graphical models. Florez also worked remotely with Michele Guindani, professor of biostatistics at UCLA.

Florez is a native of Bogotá, Colombia, where he earned his B.S. in mathematics from Universidad Sergio Arboleda in 2017 and another B.S., in statistics, from Universidad Nacional de Colombia in 2019. That year he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to attend Rice.