Department of Statistics Doctoral Student Highlight Series: William Knauth

Department of Statistics Doctoral Student Highlight Series: William Knauth

What are the odds that Schubert’s sonatas, sport airplane piloting, linear neural networks, and the 2023 AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Tournament Award would all have something in common? Ask PhD student in statistics, William Knauth. When he is not playing in symphony orchestras, flying planes for sport, or out on the range hitting holes-in-one, Knauth is a full-time, currently enrolled PhD student in the Columbia University Department of Statistics.

Knauth, 24, began the PhD Program in Statistics in Fall 2022 and is currently being mentored by Michael E. Sobel, an American Statistician and Professor of Statistics at Columbia University. As a PhD candidate at Columbia, and a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in Physics and Mathematics, and several co-authored publications under his belt, Knauth has maintained a focus on interpretability, simplification, and the development of machine learning models in order to make them better-performing and more accessible to general model users. Knauth’s current academic interests and research include model design and interpretability.  

Simultaneous to his first year of PhD studies, (even having to postpone his final exams), in May 2023, Knauth made his professional golf debut at the AT&T Byron Nelson, a golf tournament in Texas, which is part of the PGA Tour, North America’s golf flagship series of annual tournaments. A self-taught golfer, who discovered his love of the sport at the tender age of 8, Knauth was awarded the prestigious AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Tournament Award. Annual awardees are outstanding Division I, II, III, or NAIA scholar-athletes of the year, and recipients are recognized for achievement in the classroom, on the course, and in the community. As a recipient of the award, Knauth received an exemption to play in the 2023 AT&T Byron Nelson Tournament at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas.

Golf and statistics are not all that Knauth excels at. Studying music since the age of 5, he pursued mastery of the violin. Throughout elementary school, high school, and college, he served as concertmaster of the Williamsport Symphony Youth Orchestra and Williamsport Area High School Sinfonietta, and played with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, Lycoming College Community Orchestra, K&G Violinists, the Millionaire String Quartet, and the Williamsport Area High School Strolling Strings. Beyond the violin, Knauth is also recognized for his proficiency in piano and baritone.

While our resident musician may no longer be performing concertos and concert pieces, and when it’s too cold in New York City for our part-time pro golfer to refine his birdies, eagles, albatrosses, and condors, then he tinkers with an aviation fascination. The sport pilot license is the newest rage in the world of aviation, as it permits prospective pilots to become licensed in much less time and for much less money than a traditional pilot’s license. Sport pilots fly solely for pleasure and only in fair weather during daylight hours. At just 18 years of age, Knauth successfully completed his first solo sport flight after only two months of training and an accumulated 10.2 hours of flight, a breakneck pace for pilots in training. 

Well-centered, confident in his abilities, and comfortable with whatever level of accomplishment he achieves in all of his disparate and unique pursuits, there is one thing that William Knuth is firm on, and that’s his commitment to pursuing his PhD. in Statistics at Columbia University. According to Knauth, “Golf is the hobby; school is the priority.”