Carnegie Mellon University

Will Townes

Will Townes

Assistant Professor

5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213


I joined Carnegie Mellon as an assistant professor in 2022. Before that, I was a postdoctoral fellow in computer science at Princeton University working with Barbara Engelhardt. I received my Ph.D. in biostatistics at Harvard University, where I was advised by Rafael Irizarry. My path to statistics has been circuitous. I started out studying tropical ecology and conducted fieldwork in the Philippines. I completed my M.S. in math and statistics at Georgetown while working as a software tester for the EPA. As a result, I am interested in a wide variety of applications and enjoy interdisciplinary collaborations.

Specific Research Interests

I am an applied statistician working primarily in the biomedical and public health domains. As part of the Delphi research group, I focus on the use of wastewater-based epidemiology, wearable devices, and other auxiliary signals to improve infectious disease tracking and forecasting. I have developed normalization, feature selection, and dimension reduction methods for the analysis of single cell RNA-Seq and spatial transcriptomics.

My ongoing work in 'omics' typically involves collaboration with experimentalists as well as statistical methods development. My side interests include economics (international development, finance), ecology (metagenomics, conservation), and theoretical aspects of Tweedie distributions. I am a believer in the importance of exploratory analysis and data visualization.

While I am most comfortable thinking in terms of probabilistic (Bayesian) models, I am philosophically a pragmatist and draw inspiration from diverse statistical perspectives. Finally, a recurring theme of my work is computational scalability and efficiency, for example through approximate inference techniques.

Lab Groups

Areas of Research