I am starting my PhD research at the interface of probability and analysis, which you might think is quite far removed from industrial applications.
So did I, until I participated in SAMBa ITT4.
In June, we students, along with academics from Bath and around the world came together with representatives from our industrial partners, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the NHS's Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases (RNHRD), for an intensive week-long workshop. The workshop is one of SAMBa's Integrative Think Tanks (or ITTs), which are highlights of the SAMBa Programme:
ITTs are ‘big events’, focal points in the calendar of SAMBa activity, and central to its goals. ITTs are facilitated workshops in which academic, industrial, and other external partners present problems requiring research solutions, with lectures on relevant background given by experts. Students are expected to define routes to the solution of these problems, identifying the new research that will be necessary to make this possible.
Representatives from both partners came to Bath in advance of the ITT to brief us on the work that they do and the problems that they are facing. These visits were a part of our Student Led Symposia, which you can read more about in Owen's blogpost. It was clear that both partners were working in exciting application areas, including developing personalised medication and improving the efficiency of clinical trials. At this point, however, none of the problems jumped out to me from a mathematical point of view. Once we got to the ITT I was proven wrong.
The mix of people in the room generated lively discussion on the problems at hand and a huge range of ideas from all areas of mathematics were put forward to tackle them. Once the scattered ideas had been brought together into coherent groups, I decided to tackle one of AstraZeneca's problems: optimising the process of designing drugs. This seemed to be a problem in medical statistics, quite far from my own research interests, but I was quite happy to try working in a new area for a few days, as I had enjoyed doing at ITT3.
However, once we got into the problem, we found that it could be considered as a stochastic optimisation problem bringing this close to my own area of interest, and not too far from my proposed PhD topic. In fact, an undergraduate student is now doing further research along these lines over the summer, and we hope to pursue this further in the future.
The chance to work on an interesting industrial problem was not the only highlight of the ITT for me. Mathematics is often thought of as a solitary activity, but the ITT really encourages teamwork. The working groups which form allow students to work together with leading academics and experienced industrial partners - a really exciting and productive collaboration. Combined with regular coffee breaks, a dinner and plentiful after work drinks, this week was a brilliant opportunity to get to know new people from academia and industry alike.
So all in all, I found the ITT to be a fantastic experience, resulting in an insight into working with industry, lots of new acquaintances, and possibly even an industrial application for my research.