Working at the interface of statistics with applied and computational mathematics

Exclusive Interviews with SAMBa Cohort 4: Part 1

📥  Uncategorised


October 2017 brought 11 fresh faces to form SAMBa’s fourth cohort, plus 7 SAMBa-aligned PhD students. Cohort 2’s Ben Robinson and cohort 3’s Tom Pennington, known respectively as the Michael Parkinson and Jeremy Paxman of SAMBa, travelled to the first floor of 4W to conduct gruelling interviews with a few of them. Why did they choose SAMBa above all else? Did their previous experiences prepare them sufficiently? What is SAMBa-aligned anyway? Keep reading to find out...


In previous lives you’ve worked in a City law firm and taught at a prestigious school. Why did you decide to come back to maths research after law and teaching?

I worked in a big law firm for a year after graduating, but the environment just wasn't what I was looking for. While I taught in an academic school, I did a statistical masters at Birkbeck College at the same time. This inspired me to go and do maths again.

That’s nice. What's your favourite colour?

Can I have the whole rainbow?


You hail from the land of Michaelangelo, pasta and ice cream. How does Bath compare to your previous university in Italy?

There is no campus at any public university in Italy, and courses have both a written and oral exam, but no coursework. There is a distance between students and lectures in Italy; when you write an email to lecturer you make a big effort to be formal, especially as an undergraduate. In general PhD students and lecturers don't really mix in Italy, whereas here they are more like friends.


Did you do a placement before your PhD?

I did two placements at Public Health England.

What were they on?

The first one was data analysis on arsenic in drinking water. In small doses arsenic isn't harmful, but in some countries, the levels are too high and it makes people ill. The second placement was on improving a model for the dispersion of radionuclides in the atmosphere. As part of this I went to the Met Office and found out about their up to date dispersion models which they use to track things like volcanic ash.

Did your experiences in these placements make you want to pursue a career in applied maths?

I would like to continue working in public health, but I don't know in which area of maths. The first placement I did was very statistical but the second was more computational.

Would you rather be a hamster-sized rhino or a rhino-sized hamster?

Rhino-sized hamster.

(Kevin interjects with some mathematical reasoning: A rhino-sized hamster wouldn't be feasible. Body mass has cubic scaling but surface area of feet only scales quadratically. A giant hamster would not be able to support its own weight...)

To be continued in part 2, where we'll interview two Toms, Abi and Alice.


Jyväskylä Summer School 2017

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

I have always wanted to explore Scandinavia as I am fascinated by their arctic cultures and mysterious auroras. And SAMBa made my dream come true! My department advertised a post-graduate summer school in Finland, where students come together to study mathematics and other science subjects. So finally I got to experience what it’s like to be in a place norther than I have ever been.

I decided to pack light for the trip so I managed to squeeze 14 days’ worth of stuff into my normal backpack and whizzed off to Finland. I stayed in Helsinki for one night so that I could meet my penpal – and of course, warm my Finnish up before putting it in action.

I took a 3.5-hour long bus ride to Jyväskylä, a city in central Finland where the summer school was located. I rented a bike for commuting between the University and the accommodation, which was a very good idea as I got to see different parts of the city on my commute. The student accommodation I stayed in was very nice, although some of the facilities were strange. For example, the lift that takes you to the ninth floor has no door, so you could literally see the walls moving downwards as you go up. When I got to my flat, I was delighted that my room was bright and spacious, the theme was white and minimalistic. The kitchen had a peculiar Finnish invention – the dish drying rack is located above the sink, instead of beside it, so that the water drips directly downwards, this does actually save a lot of space.

My flatmate was called Roman, who was from Slovakia and taking the computer science courses at the summer school. He became my best friend there and we signed up for all the social programmes together.

The first lecture (Malliavin calculus) consisted of me trying to keep up with the pace of the presentation slides and writing every equation down. It was very enjoyable. During the break I tried to speak Finnish with some people, who were very surprised that I could, as nobody learns a language (especially a challenging one!) just for a summer school experience. They asked me how Finnish grammar works because apparently nobody in Finland knows how their own grammar works.

In the second lecture (Optimal Transport and Geometric Inequalities), there was a blind woman sitting in the front row who kept asking for clarification of what was written on the blackboard (whether the interval [0,infty) includes 0 or not etc.)  I was amazed at how someone can do mathematics without sight and how they can remember all the information just by ear. Since then, I have been working on improving my skill to talk about maths without a pen and paper, which I realised is very useful when you’re on the bus or at a dinner party with a fellow mathematician.

As part of the summer school there was also a social programme, which was extremely good. Almost every day, the summer school coordinators organised activities for us as a way of us networking and meeting other students: barbecuing Finnish sausages, biking around the lake, visiting art museums etc. Out of all these activities I’d like to talk about sauna. Sauna is probably the most well-known word in English that came from Finnish. On the Saturday we biked to Huviniemi to enjoy sauna at a summer house by the lake.

The sauna is a wooden room with a hot stove in the middle which heats the room to 80 degrees. You sit around it and occasionally throw some water onto it, after a few seconds you feel the hot steam steaming up your face. When you have had enough of sauna, you should run out and jump into the lake to cool yourself down, and then repeat this several times. To be fair I am not a big fan of hot places so I spent more time in the lake. Some people, however, said the lake was too cold and got out immediately. After sauna, we had a barbecue and ate some Finnish blueberry pies.

Aside from the summer school social programme, we also made our own social events. The best was hiking in a Finnish forest to pick mushrooms and berries with Roman, Emil (Danish) and Akseli (Finnish, from Tampere).  As I do not have the stomach of a goat, I did not eat them. It was good to have a Finn around as he knew how to identify Finnish mushrooms and berries. We had fun getting lost in the Finnish swamps and trying to find our way back home.

Finland can be summarised by three words: spacious, nature, simple. The country is quite sparsely populated, roads are wide, forests and lakes everywhere, and architecture design is minimalistic. Space allows mathematicians to think, to fill the void with meaning. I would definitely like to visit Finland again.


The paradigm of life

📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

"Travel is life"

In an unrepeatable past, someone told me that travel is the only acquisition that will make you richer. You know what? She was right.

I've been travelling like crazy, having tons of experiences, meeting different people with different mindsets, ideas and cultures, sucking in as much knowledge and life as I can. I've learnt that life is movement, a dynamical stage, a playground for experiences, laugh and fun.  I've learnt that people do not stop playing because they grow old; they grow old because they stop playing. And I've learnt that I could add the word enjoy to the paradigm of a life, turning an effort into a pleasure, a doubt into a chance.

Ballarat Wildlife Park (Australia)

“The world is a book, and those who don't travel read only one page” - Saint Augustine.

SAMBa has been giving me the possibility to read my book, or to write it, according to interpretation. I've had great experiences in Bath, I travelled to Lausanne (Switzerland), I went twice to Germany (first Berlin, then Braunschweig and Heidelberg), I worked in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne and Creswick), and I expect to go to California and Mexico next year. I met a great deal of inspiring people - I tried to learn from them and I shared my ideas. I made friends, I played, I laughed, I smiled, I lived.

Heidelberg (Germany)

Through SAMBa, I am now on a research placement at the Turing Institute in London for twelve months which began in September and I am super excited about starting from scratch in a new city, with an ocean of unknown opportunities in front of me.

Great Ocean Road (Australia)

I believe academic growth is only one of the aspects that SAMBa has been offering me. I am experiencing a personal growth, a character emersion, shaping the forma mentis which better suits who I want to become. SAMBa has given me a job that I don't consider to be a job: it's passion, experience, opportunity and fun.

Creswick (Australia)

"Life is a travel", they said.

But they were wrong. Life is a composition. A musical composition, a theatrical composition, a composition of experiences, smiles, memories and fragrances. You don't play your composition to get to its end; you play it because you want to enjoy it, all along!

Sydney Harbour (Australia)







Sequential Logarithmic Spoons (SLS)

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

(Blog jointly written by Elizabeth Gray and Cameron Smith)

It has come to our attention that nearly a year has passed since the mighty managerial mission to mastermind SLS was comprehensively conferred to our eagerly awaiting shoulders; bright eyed and uninitiated in the ways of SAMBa as they were.

It is thus with a modicum of nostalgia that we reminiscently relish the (w)riting of this review.

It all began one whimsical Wednesday when we decided to take one for the team and volunteer to organise SLS for the term (sorry, *Semester, what is this place?). What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, THIS:


Have we lost you yet? Perhaps we should explain.

In truth, SLS stands for neither sequential logarithmic spoons nor spicy lentil soup, sautéed lobster salad or slightly lacklustre sultanas but does in fact stand for Student Led Symposium. "What is that?", we hear you cry in eager anticipation. Believe us, it's a common question, one which we often ask ourselves.

SLS is a tri-weekly forum in which speakers invited by yours truly, industrial partners, and students give talks, workshops and lead mathematically informative sessions in the lead up to SAMBa's flagship activity, the ITT.


In order to prepare ourselves for such a task and to morph ourselves into the highly developed and effective interdisciplinary statisico-mathematicians which now appeareth before thine eyes, we organised many engaging activities. We present... our greatest hits:

  1. Straight in at number five are the industrial partner visits and their fascinating and mathematically unformulated problems. Problems included personalised medicine, absorption of pesticides through the skin and shaking seeds, or bees, or some undetermined small objects. Who knew seeds in a box could be so much fun?
  2. A non-mover at number four with our invited speakers. Topics included clinical trials, statistics for Syngenta problems, inverse problems and Susie's "how grown up mathematicians get money" talk about EPSRC project proposals.
  3. Clinging onto the charts for yet another year at number three are the student talks, where SAMBa students presented any previous research they had done. We learnt about general relativity, symplectic geometry, a history of probability in Mongolia and torturing rats. An overall enlightening experience.
  4. At number two, an entry so controversial, that not even the website saw it. That's right, its the ethical discussion session! We talked about the ethical questions surrounding research and industrial collaboration.
  5. And finally, a brand new entry at number one, FUN FRIDAYS!!!! This was a (semi) successful attempt at harnessing the fundamental ability ingrained in all SAMBa students, to talk about and apply maths off the cuff in fun situations such as: Rugby, dinosaurs, optimal time to buy your lunch, buses and flies in Elizabeth's flat. A series of highly competitive and mathematically charged sessions pushed the boundaries of mathematical creativity, weirdness and team collaboration which seemed an ideal environment to dip our toes into the murky world of problem formulation in preparation for the ITT. Below, we see team Finite Dinosaur Method defining and presenting on the Flinstone probability:


What more can be said for such a wonderful year. Not much as we would like to go home at some point today, before sense of humour levels dip below critical. Thus we will leave you with our most ambitious SLS session to Las Vegas¹ with a picture:


SLS love
Camzabeth x

¹ If anyone from EPSRC is reading, this never happened.


Budd brigade with Industry

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

In June 2017, a group of Prof Chris Budd's PhD students (Me (Hayley Wragg), Matthew Griffith, and Susan Kgmotso Morupisi) ventured across the sea, to the west of Bath, all the way to Limerick! Travelling for the 128th European study group with industry. Greeted by stunning Irish countryside (and weather) we arrived at the University of Limerick ready for a week of maths.

For those wondering what an Industry study group actually is, here is a brief overview. Several Industrial Partners present mathematical problems to a group of mathematicians. The mathematicians come from all over the world to spend a week working on the problems together.

How is that different to SAMBa's ITT's? Well, the study groups take place in the university but aren't connected to a CDT like the ITT is. The problems are already formulated at the start of the week and the aim is to get some results by the end. There are more preparation days for the ITT, whereas the study group starts the week it's on.

On our first Monday morning (after some surprisingly good coffee!) the industry partners introduced the problems. There were 5 problems in total. Monday afternoon participants chose their groups and got started on the problems. Work continued until Friday broken up by a guest lecture and study group dinner. Matthew and Susan were both working on a problem modelling vehicle collisions and I was looking at wave propagation through materials.

The guest lecture featured Jacqueline Christmas, who gifted us with an insight into her work modelling ocean waves.

The week finished with a presentation from each group on the work they had completed on the problem (Matthew, Susan and I all presented).
The work didn’t stop after the event though since reports were submitted to the partners within 3 weeks of the event finishing.

But one Industry study group wasn’t enough for the Budd Brigade and in August 2017 a new group of Buddlings formed ( me and Kate Powers). We travelled further west to Montreal in order to test our French (and maths).

Along with Chris we attended the Eighth Montreal Industrial Problem Solving Workshop at the University of Montreal.

With a similar structure to the ESGI, the week begin with problem introductions from the industrial partners on Monday morning. This time there were 9 problems in total. Monday afternoon work began. Kate was looking at friction stir welding; I was looking at registration of hyperspectral images of the retina ; and Chris was looking at data assimilation on hydroelectric power.
Wednesday evening gave visiting participants the chance to visit Old Montreal where we were blessed with views of some of the amazing architecture as well as a walk along the waterfront. Work on the problems kept going until Friday.
All 9 problems were presented to the rest of the participants on the Friday (Chris and I presented), before the Budd Brigade returned to the UK.

The working structure of both study groups was intense but exciting. Discussions with professors, academics and students all working together to, categorise the problem,
work out the maths, and get results at the end of the week. The problems covered many areas of maths, including (but not limited to): fluid dynamics, statistics, probability, computational modelling, and numerical analysis.

I would thoroughly recommend the weeks to all applied mathematicians. Prepare to have a great time whilst getting lots of maths done. It is also essential to carry a SAMBa CDT keep cup at all times.
Anyone feeling inspired to attend a study group in the future can check Maths in Industry for future events.





Yeah! It's a conference in the USA!

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

(Title: with apologies to Miley Cyrus and inspired by "Wierd Al" Yankovic)

In May this year I travelled to the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis for WAVES 2017 (or to give it its full title, the "International Conference on Mathematical and Numerical Aspects of Wave Propagation"). I was accompanied to the wild (mid) west by Elizabeth Arter, Ivan Graham and Euan Spence from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, here in Bath.

So with heady hopes for my first major conference (and my first trip to the USA) I made my way (changing planes in Iceland!) to Minneapolis.

I should explain why I'd gone all the way to Minneapolis for a conference. My research involves waves; acoustic waves, to be precise. I seek to understand the behaviour of sound waves when they move through a random medium, (For example, when sound wave moves through a crowd of people, but you don't know exactly where the people are).

I also design numerical methods for quickly computing properties of these sound waves and I try to prove that these numerical methods work. My research tends to come under the umbrella of `Uncertainty Quantification' -  designing and analysing numerical methods for problems containing randomness.

Having arrived in Minneapolis, had (some) sleep, and been treated to a very large breakfast in the hotel (I never knew pancakes could be that big!), we made our way to the conference venue, the Coffman Memorial Union

The Coffman Memorial Union, our conference venue

Happily, I didn't have to wrestle with the conference timetable on day one - there was a minisymposium all day on "Seismic Waves: Uncertainty Quantification in Imaging/Inversion Across Scales." Most of the talks in the minisymposium came from researchers in seismic imaging. They're interested in reconstructing the rock structure underneath the earth using sound waves.

Seismic imaging is a major motivator for my own research. We're interested in problems surrounding wave propagation and developing fast, accurate algorithms. And yet those in the 'seismic world' have some different concerns to me. I didn't hear any talk of mathematically proving that methods work, rather, they're interested in methods that seem to work well in realistic scenarios. For example, did you know that salt can cause issues for seismic imaging, as it reflects lots of sound waves? It was a valuable experience chatting with them - their interests could well inform the direction of my PhD.

At the end of day one were treated to a public lecture by Michael Berry from the University of Bristol (it's a small world). After this, some people went out for a drink (in the fabulously named Dinkytown area of Minneapolis) but I made my slightly jet lagged way back to the hotel. Why? Because I was talking the next day!

My talk was in the last possible slot on Tuesday evening, before the conference dinner. I wasn't expecting a big crowd! However, there were around 15 people in the room. They heard me speak on "Bounds on the Helmholtz equation in heterogeneous and random media".

A slide from my talk

This is work with my supervisors Ivan Graham and Euan Spence; we have proved that there are certain types of heterogeneous and random media where you can guarantee you'll never experience `resonance'. Resonance is the phenomenon that means an opera singer can shatter a glass, or that you'll find certain notes ring louder than others when you sing in the shower. If you've not experienced this - try it next time you have a shower!

After my talk came the conference dinner, in the impressive yet architecturally quirky McNamara Alumni Centre. The roof is polyhedral and part of the wall is the old entrance to the sports stadium, which leans over the inside space in a mildly worrying fashion.

The wall of the McNamara Alumni Centre - it's an old gate for the football stadium

The banquet was wonderful - we had the fantastic setting, with good food to boot. It was also a fun- and laughter-filled reminder of how multinational the academic community is. At our table of eight, we had five different nationalities represented (British, French, Austrian, American and Mexican).

And it seems that my talk actually made an impact (besides meaning people had to rush to the conference dinner). I was able to have a conversation with one of the audience members later in the week. They work on problems in plasmas, and were interested whether our results could apply to their work.

The following three days of the conference passed in a mixture of talks attended, meals enjoyed and acquaintances made or strengthened. These last two points are interlinked. It's a privilege to be able to go for sushi with a group of people you've met during the week and get to know one of the leaders in your field over lunch!

I have to mention the drinks reception we had in the Weisman Art Museum - we had modern art (I'm still not sure I understand it), views towards downtown Minneapolis over the Mississippi and a jazz trio. However, I don't think we quite appreciated the architecture from the inside!

The Weisman Art Museum

The strengthening of relationships continued until the last evening. You can't help but get to know people better after you've crossed the light rail tracks with them and then spent twenty minutes walking down a largely empty road bordered by abandoned lorry trailers and derelict flour mills in search of a beer hall that one of the group visited once before. To be fair, he'd been there for a conference dinner, knew exactly where he was going, and we had a great evening.

Grain elevators, near our walk on the final evening

And before we knew it, the conference was over, and we were on a flight back home! It was a week filled with waves, maths and mathematicians.I think you'll find me at WAVES 2019, and we might have another blog post title inspired by a song. Can you guess where it's going to be?


Image Credits:

Coffman Memorial Union Minnesota 5.jpg by AlexiusHoratius is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Atrium of McNamara Alumni Center, old football stadium gate.jpg by Runner1928 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Weisman Art Museum Minneapolis by tpsdave is licensed under Creative Commons CC0, via Pixabay

Grain Elevators 1 by Jon Platek is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Students organise brilliant first SAMBa conference

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

DSC_0317 Cropped

We welcomed in mid-summer with our first SAMBa conference. The conference was organised by students Ben Robinson and Adwaye Rambojun, with many more of our students presenting talks or posters over the two days. These presentations showcased the range of excellent research that is taking place across the continuum of statistical applied mathematics.


External speakers Anja Sturm (University of Göttingen), Colin Morice (Met Office), and Richie Gill (Mechanical Engineering) showcased their work on branching and coalescing particle systems, reconstruction of daily air temperature variations, and in silico clinical trials, respectively.


Our partners, GKN, Schlumberger, AstraZeneca, and BT, each sponsored a session, and we were pleased to welcome a number of staff and students from UK universities, and industrial organisations, with 80 people attending over the two days.


Paul Milewski, co-Director of SAMBa, said: “It is wonderful to see the breadth of research taking place in SAMBa, and how well it was presented. The combination of talented students, diversity of research, and a cohort approach, where students continuously discuss with each other, has worked out extremely well.”


Anja Sturm, one of the invited speakers, said: "I was very impressed with the SAMBa programme and the conference. The talks and presentations were excellent and I was particularly taken by the great enthusiasm the students showed for their projects - which were indeed quite diverse and very interesting both from a mathematical, as well as an application point of view."


The atmosphere during the conference was great, with lots of discussion and a real sense of celebrating the achievements of SAMBa. We are already looking forward to next year!

More photos can be viewed here on Flickr.


Building Links in Mongolia

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

In late November 2016, 10 keen students and academics made the long journey to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, for a research trip aiming to build links between Mongolia and the University of Bath.

Upon arriving in temperatures reaching -30 degrees Celsius, a few wondered what they had let themselves in for. Even Andreas Kyprianou, who knew Mongolia well, had never visited before in winter and was a tad apprehensive.


Left: the long journey from Bath to Ulaanbaatar, involving a stop off in Beijing. Right: arriving at Chinggis Khaan airport in Mongolia.

The aim of the trip was to help develop the Mongolian industrial mathematics and statistics capability. It was hoped this would help the country form evidence-based policies that will drive economic, industrial and environmental development. A team from the University of Bath was hence formed of individuals that could help build collaborative links between policy makers in Mongolia to generate high impact research activity, and deliver a course in statistics to provide training for young academics and workers. This included representatives from SAMBa, the Statistics group, IMI, IPR, and four postgraduate students.

The course was primarily run by the postgraduate students and had a large amount of interest with hundreds of applications. A suitable venue was identified which allowed for 130 participants from Mongolia to attend. The material began with motivational examples of the use of statistical analysis such as the use of clustering methods on electricity usage data to better predict electricity demand. The participants were introduced to statistical software R, and shown how to use it for initial data analysis and data visualisation. The course moved onto methods for hypothesis testing including how to pick the right test for different types of data. It concluded with methods for linear regression and clustering. Many of the participants had their own data from academic or public sector projects, and a lot of queries related to importing and analysing this data.

On the first day of the course, a TV crew recorded a report for the state TV channel MNB. A 3-minute long segment involving interviews was broadcast on the news on 22nd November 2016. At the time of writing, the report is available to view on the MNB website (22:00 mins).

Given the language barrier, it was found necessary to speak relatively slowly, and pause for a translation after every phrase. This was useful in developing the skill to speak in a concise articulate way, and to avoid using serpentine sentence construction (which I for one was previously guilty of when giving talks!).

Logistical challenges arose including intermittent WIFI access due to the large amount of people in the course. This was countered by the downloading of relevant materials including R software and packages onto many memory sticks for circulation.

Delivering the course was an enjoyable and extremely beneficial experience for us. The participants of the course were extremely friendly and it was genuinely a joy to work with them.


Top left: Poster advertising the statistics course. Top right: Robbie Peck assisting a course participant with the installation of the relevant statistical software. Bottom: Aoibheann Brady, Matt Thomas, Robbie Peck, and Adwaye Rambojun preparing and delivering the statistics course.

The other half of the University of Bath team took the lead in meeting policy makers to build future potential collaboration links. This included representatives from the National University of Mongolia, and the Ministries of Health, Energy, National Strategy. This proved fruitful with many different leads for collaboration with academic and public sector projects.

One potential collaboration involved looking at air pollution and tuberculosis records within Mongolia. The burning of untreated coal to fuel the large heating cost in Ulaanbaatar meant that the PM10 concentration in the city was relatively high. A possible direction would be to fit a model to pollution levels across space and time to ‘fill in the gaps’ where there are not records. One could then cross reference this with the tuberculosis records to measure any association between air pollution levels and tuberculosis diagnoses. It is hoped research such as this will have weight in influencing public policy through the links established with the public-sector workers we met.

Furthermore, Professor Gavin Shaddick ran a workshop in air pollution which began with talks from academics from Bath and Mongolia. This then followed the style of a SAMBa Integrative Think Tank by having cross discipline group discussions to identify problems and research questions, and then short presentations about directions one would take to tackle them. For each problem, a contact in Mongolia was identified to be the catalyst for future work in that area.


Top left: Meeting at the Public Health Institute. Top right: Julie Barnett in a discussion during a workshop on Epidemiology and Public Health. Bottom left: Andreas Kyprianou working through some ideas during a workshop on Ecology. Bottom right: Meeting at the Economics Research Institute.

Once the week had finished, we celebrated all the new potential future collaborations with a Mongolian feast. The food was particularly delicious, involving large amounts of tender meat and traditional Mongolian salads and sides. To our new Mongolian friends, we said “Баярлалаа!”, and hope to return to Mongolia in 2017 to ensure the successful development of the ongoing collaborations and to perform further training courses.


My first conferences: A SAMBa story

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

My first year at SAMBa has been quite an eventful one. I can definitely say that SAMBa has delivered on its promise to help me explore different areas of Mathematics. However, this post is not about maths at all (who are we kidding, it probably is), it rather concerns my experience of conference attendance. My very first one was a workshop on big models at the University of Warwick, which incidentally happens to be my undergraduate institution. The reason I went there was to see what the Institute of Data science was up to, and as expected, they were doing things that I was interested in. Statistics, applied mathematics, data science and machine learning.


Swisstech Convention Centre, Lausanne (courtesy of STCC)

My second conference was perhaps the most daunting one. In my quest to know more about uncertainty quantification (UQ), I took up a module with the local expert on it, Prof. Rob Scheichl. This led to the SIAM conference on uncertainty quantification in Lausanne. The venue was breathtaking, to say the least. It was in the Swisstech convention centre at the EPFL. I have never seen an auditorium with that much leg room during the plenary talks. To fund myself, I along with a fellow SAMBAlite, Gianluca, successfully applied for funding from MI-Net. Part of the deal of going there was to further inter university collaboration, and hence the day preceding the conference involved some informal chat with Fabio Nobile's research group. We exchanged ideas and research interests. The rest of the week involved us going to different sessions. They were quite daunting to be honest as most of the speakers were very, very good at what they did. This only increased my desire to actually start a research project and further my knowledge in a specialist area. The thing that I believe was most beneficial for me was to see the use of machine learning in UQ. This contributed to my decision to take up machine learning as my current research project as I could see that UQ would still be an option if I diverted away from it for a bit. I have to say though, my bilinguality helped a lot during the trip. I speak both French and English fluently, coming from a bilingual society (well, we're actually multilingual as most of us speak a third oriental language plus our local dialect, creole. Mauritius FTW right?).


Me, Gianluca and another SAMBa student Matt outside the conference in Lausanne

I went to my next conference after I had chosen my project (which is on automatic damage assessment in x-rays of Psoriatic Arthritis patients). It was a summer school on Gaussian Processes organised by the Machine Learning group at the University of Sheffield. It was the first year where they added the words "and uncertainty quantification" to it. I expected it to be full of computer scientists. To my surprise, the attendees were extremely diverse. There was an analytics team from formula 1; a guy working with Siemens (I think it was Siemens) on wind turbines; and wait for UQ lecturer from Warwick, Tim Sullivan (who is one of the most rigorous applied mathematicians I know) and my final year project supervisor, Mark Girolami. Uncertainty Quantification can mean many things! The summer school had practical sessions and talks from people who are very good at working with Gaussian Processes. One thing I got from the whole thing was that Gaussian Processes are used everywhere, from trying to optimise functions you cannot evaluate, to trying to fix the posteriors you get in Bayesian Inverse Problems. Is there a better alternative? Maybe. The search continues....


Antarctica as modelled using Markov Chain Monte Carlo, a key tool in Uncertainty Quantification (courtesy of the National Science Foundation)

The next conference I went to was very different from my two previous ones. It was actually one on Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA). No maths, just medical researchers and practitioners talking about, well, PsA. I did not get most of what was happening as they were talking about genes and things. They also mentioned "statistics" a lot of times. That was scary. I mean, really scary. When I asked them what kind of tests they were doing the answer was often "I don't know, I just press on a button in stata". It thus seemed to me that medical doctors in general need a better grasp of data science. Hence I tried to get some statistics training into their realm by suggesting we do a little session with consultants undergoing training. This was well received and it is hoped we can do it in the future during one of their training days.

You might be asking yourselves, how did you, a self proclaimed applied mathematician (please don't hate me, I know I did stats as a major) go to a medical workshop? Long story short: I was invited to a meeting in Bath on medical imaging, as I had now started working on this. There I met Prof. Neil McHugh, who works in pharmacology at the University of Bath. I mentioned my desire to know more about the PsA and he suggested I go there.

My English teacher always told me to put a concluding comment in my essays, and this is kind of an essay. The food at non-maths meetings, like the medical imaging one and the PsA one is way better. I had three course warm meals in both of them as opposed to the usual dried out sandwiches that repeat themselves n-times where n is the number of days the meetings stretch out for. Oh, and I'm writing this on a plane to Beijing where I transit before going to teach stats in Mongolia on SAMBa business. This one is for another time!