January 5, 2024

Pranab K. Sen, PhD, professor emeritus at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, passed away at his home in Chapel Hill on December 31, 2023, at age 86. 

He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and gastric cancer last March.

Dr. Pranab Sen

Dr. Pranab Sen

Sen was a mathematician and longtime biostatistics professor who is widely regarded as a pioneer of nonparametric statistics. 

He earned a doctorate in statistics and an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Calcutta.  He taught at the University of Calcutta and the University of California at Berkeley, before joining the faculty of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1965. 

At Carolina, Sen became a Cary C. Boshamer professor in 1982. In 2002, he won the Gottfried E. Noether Senior Scholar Award of the American Statistical Association (ASA). He was the 2010 recipient of the ASA’s Samuel Wilks Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to statistical research, especially in nonparametric statistics and biostatistics, and for exceptional service in mentoring doctoral students. 

“It was with great sadness that I learned of Dr. Sen’s passing,” says Lisa LaVange, PhD, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Biostatistics. “His contributions to research were expansive, but my fondest memories are the teaching and mentoring he provided, especially to international students, many with whom he continued to collaborate as they progressed in their own careers around the world. His legacy as a UNC biostatistics faculty member is sure to be long-lasting.” 

Although he held visiting positions at other universities, Sen remained at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health until his retirement in 2017.  

He is known for independently inventing the Hodges-Lehmann Estimator at the same time as Joseph Hodges, PhD and Erich Lehmann, PhD, in 1963. In 1968, he invented the Theil-Sen Estimator, a form of univariate and multivariate statistical analyses used to this day.  

In 2007, a festschrift (a collection of his works) was dedicated to him in honor of his seventieth birthday. In 2011, Sen and his family established the P.K. Sen Visiting Professorship at Carolina, which recruits aspiring scholars in statistical science from nations still developing in respect to their statistics and biostatistics workforce. 

“In addition to having a major impact on the field of nonparametric statistics, Professor Sen had a profound effect on the UNC Department of Biostatistics. He served on our faculty for over 50 years,” says Michael Hudgens, PhD, chair of the Gillings School’s biostatistics department. “He was a prolific researcher, publishing 11 books and co-authoring more than 600 publications, and an outstanding mentor who advised 85 doctoral students. Through his research, writing and students, Professor Sen’s legacy will live on for many years to come.”

Sen’s family also created the Kalyani Sen Scholarship for International Students, which enables international students to receive educational support in their final year of seeking a degree in biostatistics. The funds were given by Sen and his wife in honor of Sen’s mother, Kalyani Sen. 

Sen is survived by his wife of 60 years, Gauri; his daughter, Devadutta, and son-in-law, Joy, of Mountain View, California; and his son, Aniruddha, and daughter-in-law, Kimberly, of Chapel Hill, N.C.; five grandchildren; three sisters; and eleven nephews and nieces. 

Sen’s shraddha kaj (funeral service) will be held in Kolkata, India, on January 10 at 8:30 p.m., EST (Eastern Standard Time). For those unable to attend in person, there is an option to attend virtually via this Zoom link.  

Donations in his memory may be made online at the Give UNC webpage in support of the Pranab K. Sen Distinguished Visiting Professorship or the Kalyani Sen International Students Scholarship in Biostatistics. 

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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