Working at the interface of statistics with applied and computational mathematics

Tagged: Integrative Think Tanks

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.


Mathematicians meet the Health Industry - SAMBa ITT4

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

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.

Students, academics and industrialists at SAMBa ITT4


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.


What is a Student-Led Symposium?

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📥  Statistical Applied Mathematics

It's perfectly reasonable that if you and I bumped into each other, part of our conversation would go something like this:

Me: "I'm co-organising the SAMBa Student-Led Symposium this semester."

You: "What's that?"

Me: "Well..."

So, the SAMBa Student-Led Symposium (or SLS) - what is it?

The SLS is a seminar/workshop organised by SAMBa students, where we get to do pretty much whatever we want (within the boundaries of mathematics and statistics). It also helps us prepare for the Integrative Think Tanks (ITTs) that happen at the end of each semester (for more on what the ITTs are like, see here.)

Rather than attempt to explain this further, I'll give you some examples of what's happened this semester.

In the SLS, we've had:

Workshops from students


Robbie Peck gave us a primer on clinical trials. Pictured is his `Low-Hanging Fruit of Medical Research'.

`Meta' maths talks


Euan Spence gave us a talk on How to Give a Good Maths Talk. Pictured is his `Inverse Problem' of maths talks.

Maths Workshops from academics


Chris Jennison told us about decision theory and joint clinical trials and Neill Campbell showed us how your phone makes those panorama pictures. Pictured is part of Chris' explanation of decision theory - based on what the weather forecast says, should you take your umbrella?

`Non-maths' workshops


Jack Betteridge and I did an introduction to Unix workshop. Eike Mueller gave us some sessions on the version control software Git. Pictured is what happens if you use the `rm' command in Unix recklessly.

Visits from Industrial Partners


Dr Will Tillet (from the RNHRD in Bath) asked whether we could speed up scoring the X-rays of Psoriatic Arthritis patients and Dr Alun Bedding (from AstraZeneca) explained how he wants to revolutionise the drug development process. Pictured is Alun talking about drug development at ITT4.

Talks from all of the SAMBa Cohort


We all gave critical talks on papers we'd read. Pictured is Adwaye Rambojun giving us a talk in semester one about Random Forests.

So, what is a Student-Led Symposium?

We've aimed at it being a discussion/seminar/workshop with a variety of topics - ask the rest of the SAMBa cohort if it's worked!