As a student at Harvard University, I was captured by the interesting mathematics revealed by my mentor, Marston Morse.
Though my teaching career was interupted due to WWII, I began my research in statistics when overhearing two senior naval officers discuss a bombing coverage problem...which I solved but couldn't share my solution as I needed security clearance to discuss the problem with the officers.
In addition to my long tenure at Columbia University, I taught mathematics at New York University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rutgers University, and the Institute for Advanced Study.
Both a mathematician and statistician, I did research in topology, measure theory, Boolean algebras, graph theory, statistics, and other fields.
As to my successes, I introduced empirical Bayes methods to the math world, co-invented the first stochastic approximation algorithm, and worked on the theory of power-one tests and optimal stopping.
Yet, mathematical research is filled with false starts: "Most of the time I'm just sitting there, in an almost detached manner, thinking, 'Well, here's another day's wastebasket full of paper. Nothing's come through. Maybe another day. Maybe I should stay up tonight and try some more.'"
The general public knows me as co-author of the popular text What is Mathematics?, connected to "googol" fame....and even praised by Albert Einstein.
Herbert Ellis Robbins (1915 – 2001)