Rutgers Mathematician Undergraduate uses Workshop to Plan Future

Francesca Falzon

Contributed by: Francesca Falzon, Mathematics Major, Undergraduate, Rutgers University

As an aspiring mathematician, I was very excited to be participating in my first-ever mathematical conference at the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI). The two-day Optimization Undergraduate Workshop took place from February 27-28 in Durham, N.C. The workshop was part of SAMSI’s education and outreach initiative and included approximately 40 students from across the United States. The students convened to learn more about cutting edge research topics relating to optimization methods for large-scale statistical analysis.

A Busy Day…

After having a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we were whisked away to SAMSI where we began our day with an introduction from the Deputy Director, Sujit Ghosh. This was closely followed by a hands-on R tutorial, led by Paul Brooks, an Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He began his talk with an exercise in finding the optimal point in a real coordinate space. He also thoughtfully carved out some time at the end of his lecture to provide insight and guidance to those of us considering graduate school.

My brief time at SAMSI was a whirl-wind experience packed to the brim with fascinating lectures and engaging workshops.”

Fueled up with tea and coffee during the break, we delved back into more optimization, this time as it relates to Bayesian Linear Inverse problems. Professor Alen Alexanderian of North Carolina State University explained how inverse problems, governed by PDE’s, can allow us to determine A-optimal sensor placement when the starting conditions are unknown.

As someone with a budding interest in computer science, but a limited knowledge of programming, I was very excited to partake in a workshop that taught us the Fundamentals of Scientific Python. Ahmed Attia, a SAMSI Postdoc, walked us through the basics of the Python language as well as the implementation of various tools/functions available through the NumPy package. This segued into a lecture series on the subject of Neural Networks and Optimization in Data Analysis given by Peter Diao and Sercan Yildiz, who are both also Postdocs at SAMSI. Machine learning is proving to be a popular research area, so it was great to be exposed to this rapidly growing field in mathematics and computer science. The program coordinators were extremely thoughtful in the inclusion of a career panel to wrap up the day. Applying for graduate school is often a daunting process so I welcomed the panel discussion on career opportunities, as we got to hear about ‘tips and tricks’ from graduate school application veterans – the SAMSI Postdocs and Graduate Fellows helping to run the program.

The Wrap Up…

Day two was quite a different change of pace. On Tuesday we got the chance to visit the SAS Institute campus in Cary, N.C. During our time there, we heard various presentations on current research being done in optimization from Manoj Chari, Yan Xu, and the other members of the Numerical Optimization team at SAS. I am not sure whether I would ultimately like to conduct research in an academic setting or an industry setting, so I found the exposure to both work environments very instructive.

My brief time at SAMSI was a whirl-wind experience packed to the brim with fascinating lectures and engaging workshops. It also proved to be a wonderful opportunity for not only learning about optimization methods, but also for networking with individuals at all academic stages – from fellow undergraduates to graduate students to associate professors. Needless to say, the experience at SAMSI exceeded my high-expectations and instilled in me a new-found excitement about my pursuit of mathematics upon returning back to my home institution!


Paul Brooks, Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University begins his lecture by challenging students to find an optimal point in a real coordinate space at the Optimization Undergraduate Workshop.

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