A trip to Kolkata, India for the SAMSI and ISI Environmental Statistics Workshop

group shot

Workshop participants from the USA (left to right): Richard Smith, Soutir Bandyopadhyay, Sujit Ghosh, Ander Wilson, Veronica Berrocal, Dorit Hammerling, Stacey Alexeeff, Doug Nychka, Kiros Berhane.

The following was written by Stacey Alexeeff, NSF postdoctoral fellow.

Thirty hours of travel brought me from Colorado to New Jersey to Mumbai, and finally to Kolkata, India for the VI-MSS Workshop on Environmental Statistics. Jointly organized by the Indian Statistical Institute and SAMSI, the workshop participants included researchers and professors from across India and the US. Some of us, like myself, were traveling to India for the first time. Luckily, the other participants who had lived in Kolkata took some time to make us feel comfortable. Soutir Bandyopadhyay brought a few of us to his favorite traditional Indian restaurant to enjoy a delicious meal the night we arrived.

people eating lunch under a tent

Lunch for the workshop was help outdoors under a tent on the Indian Statistical Institute campus.

The workshop was designed to bring together researchers from both the US and India to address questions in environmental statistics. The talks included a broad range of environmental topics from soil contamination to air pollution to rainfall predictions. The conference organizers put in a great deal of effort to showcase work across different institutions of India. This gave a nice breadth to the talks. The poster session gave us all a chance to mingle, and it was a great to have change of pace and get out of out seats for awhile.

Doug Nychka lecturing

Doug Nychka, NCAR giving a lecture.

I enjoyed walking through the Indian Statistical Institute campus. I got a kick out of names of the buildings, each named after a famous statistician.   Our workshop was held in Kolmogorov Hall. Most surprising was finding out there was a dinosaur fossil museum in the building right across from where we were meeting, and getting an impromptu tour. Personally, I enjoyed talking with the other conference participants, and I now feel a certain kinship with the many statisticians who I have met who in the US who spent part of their educational training at ISI.

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Recovering from the Epigenetics Workshop

three people talking at the meeting

Michael Zhang (UT Dallas), Zhaohui (Steve) Qin and Shili Lin (Ohio State, co-organizer)

The following is from Zhaohui (Steve) Qin, Associate Professor, Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, who attended the SAMSI Epigenetics Workshop March 9-11, 2015.

I was sitting near my departure gate at RDU Wednesday afternoon, waiting for my return flight after attending the SAMSI workshop on Epigenetics. Suddenly I feel so tired. I have good reason for being exhausted. I feel that my brain has been set on high-spin mode all of the last three days. This is so strange. It is supposed to be a low-intensity meeting. Only a handful of talks and just about 50 attendees. It feels so different from attending other conferences such as ENAR, JSM or ASHG.

First, I know almost everyone at the workshop. For the speakers, I either know them personally, or I know their work. At every break, I barely have time to grab a cup of coffee, not mentioning checking emails. There is always someone I want to talk to within five feet of me wherever I go. And not like the massive conferences, there is plenty of space at the corridor in this cozy SAMSI building. So I feel totally comfortable to join in a conversation.

Inkyung Jung (UCSD), Chenchen Zou (Jackson Lab) and Miriam Huntley (Harvard).

Inkyung Jung (UCSD), Chenchen Zou (Jackson Lab) and Miriam Huntley (Harvard).

Second, there is so much to learn, to talk about and to think. Epigenetics is a hot area these days, new technologies and new findings are emerging almost daily. This is a great opportunity to immerse myself in this exciting field, with so many experts in these areas walking around me. Thanks to Dr. Shili Lin, the set of speakers at the workshop is amazing. A few senior and very experienced scientists plus a large cohort of young and energetic young scientists. In the past three days, I learned several new ideas or results/findings. And I am pretty sure my fellow attendees felt the same way. Everyone is asking each other what’s new. I won’t be surprised if new collaborations were started right at the workshop. I wish more conferences I am going to will be like this one. And I am certain that I will come back to this nice little building when the next opportunity arrives.

Group of people sitting looking at laptops during a break

Yongseok Park (U Pittsburgh), Inkyung Jung (UCSD)

I felt so sympathetic towards my colleagues Karen Conneely and Hao Wu, who have to drive six hours back home. How can someone still have the energy to do that after three long days is really beyond me. I am determined that I am going to sleep soundly during my flight back, no matter how bad the turbulence is.

And I did.

My Impressions of the SAMSI Multivariate Modeling in Ecology Workshop

By Andrew Johnson, postbacc at North Carolina State University

group listening to a talk

SAMSI held the Multivariate Models in Ecology Workshop March 2-4.

Folks came in from across the country earlier this week to contribute to SAMSI’s Multivariate Modeling in Ecology workshop. Living in Raleigh, I shared in the excitement but enjoyed a much shorter commute than most. During my drive to SAMSI on the morning of the first day, I must say that I had a few reservations. I was new to the working group and unsure about my ability to contribute to the group’s progress. I was immediately relieved to find that my fears were misplaced. The atmosphere throughout the workshop was warm and industrious, welcoming of all questions and suggestions. Two of my favorite features were the flexibility of the schedule and the fluidity of the subgroups, both being obvious products of our group’s openness to input. There was a predetermined schedule for each day that was quickly adjusted by the group’s suggestions. This was also the case for group sizes. When appropriate, the group would quickly split into smaller, project-based subgroups. These self-guided adaptations made it possible for everyone involved to get the most out of their experience.

Three women discussing a poster

Poster session at the workshop.

The workshop was designed to address a few of the issues that the Multivariate Modeling working group has grappled with in the past. The group has been interested in understanding how the spatial positions of multiple species can be interrelated and co-vary with environmental influences, as well as the best way to model those relationships. Needless to say this poses a few inherent challenges. One of the primary questions that the subgroups focused on was that of dimension reduction for datasets describing the interactions among multiple species and environmental variables. Complementing the efforts on dimensional reduction, the subgroups also worked on developing improved methods for interpreting their computational results. In addition to the questions above, our group discussed strategies for assembling separate datasets into one coherent “picture.” This required consideration of each dataset’s reliability and corresponded to the computational weight placed on each. Fortunately, my favorite question of “where to eat” was answered with ease each day, as the workshop was fully catered with excellent food!

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson at the poster session and reception.

I gained a great deal from this workshop, and had a blast doing it! I am thrilled to have been a part of it.