About Becca

Rebecca Willett Headshot

Erielle Bakkum Photography

Professor of Statistics and Computer Science & Director of AI at the Data Science Institute, with a courtesy appointment at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago.

Prof. Willett’s work in machine learning and signal processing reflects broad and interdisciplinary expertise and perspectives. She is known internationally for her contributions to the mathematical foundations of machine learning, large-scale data science, and computational imaging.

In particular, Prof. Willett studies methods to learn and leverage hidden structure in large-scale datasets; representing data in terms of these structures allows ML methods to produce more accurate predictions when data contain missing entries, are subject to constrained sensing or communication resources, correspond to rare events, or reflect indirect measurements of complex physical phenomena. These challenges are pervasive in science and technology data, and Prof. Willett’s work in this space has had important implications in national security, medical imaging, materials science, astronomy, climate science, and several other fields. She has published nearly two hundred book chapters and scientific articles published in top-tier journals and conferences at the intersection of machine learning, signal processing, statistics, mathematics, and optimization. Her group has made contributions both in the mathematical foundations of signal processing and machine learning and in their application to a variety of real-world problems.

In addition to her technical contributions, Prof. Willett is a strong advocate for diversity in STEM and AI and has organized multiple events to support women in middle school, as undergraduate and graduate students, and as faculty members.

Prof. Willett completed her Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University in 2005 and was an Assistant then tenured Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University from 2005 to 2013. She was an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Harvey D. Spangler Faculty Scholar, and Fellow of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2013 to 2018. Willett has also held visiting researcher or faculty positions at the University of Nice in 2015, the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA in 2004, the University of Wisconsin-Madison 2003-2005, the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in 2003, and the Applied Science Research and Development Laboratory at GE Healthcare in 2002.

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Bio

Rebecca Willett is a Professor of Statistics and Computer Science at the University of Chicago. Her research is focused on machine learning, signal processing, and large-scale data science. Prof. Willett received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2007, was a member of the DARPA Computer Science Study Group 2007-2011,  received an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program award in 2010, was named a Fellow of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics in 2021, and was named a Fellow of the IEEE in 2022. She is a co-principal investigator and member of the Executive Committee for the Institute for the Foundations of Data Science, helps direct the Air Force Research Lab University Center of Excellence on Machine Learning, and currently leads the University of Chicago’s AI+Science Initiative. She serves on advisory committees for the National Science Foundation’s Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation, the AI for Science Committee for the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, the Sandia National Laboratories Computing and Information Sciences Program, and the University of Tokyo Institute for AI and Beyond. She completed her PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University in 2005 and was an Assistant then tenured Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University from 2005 to 2013. She was an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Harvey D. Spangler Faculty Scholar, and Fellow of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2013 to 2018.  Prof. Willett has also held visiting researcher positions at the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA in 2004, the University of Wisconsin-Madison 2003-2005, the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in 2003, and the Applied Science Research and Development Laboratory at GE Medical Systems (now GE Healthcare) in 2002. She is also an instructor for FEMMES (Females Excelling More in Math Engineering and Science; news article here) and a local exhibit leader for Sally Ride Festivals. She was a recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Rice University Presidential Scholarship, the Society of Women Engineers Caterpillar Scholarship, and the Angier B. Duke Memorial Scholarship.