What Does It Mean to be a Woman in Mathematics?

The following blog post was written by Jessica Matthews, Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites (CICS-NC).

room full of women watching presentation

Workshop for Women in Mathematics held April 6-8, 2016.

When offered the invitation to speak at SAMSI’s Opportunities Workshop for Women in Math Sciences, I gladly accepted. When it came time to actually prepare the presentation, I realized that I had never attended, let alone presented, at this type of workshop ever before. I am well versed in putting together a scientific presentation, but this was different. So I myself was faced with the opportunity to consider what it meant to be a woman in mathematics. I had the opening talk time slot, which inherently carries with it the pressure of setting the tone for the entire event. I chose to draw from my personal experiences and to discuss career possibilities beyond the classroom, skill sets I have found necessary (beyond math), and a few key challenges faced by women in our field. A spirited discussion regarding the pay gap and the importance of negotiation entailed. I enjoyed the free-flowing discussion, and felt like this open and welcoming atmosphere was present for the rest of our gathered time.

Throughout the two and half days of the workshop, we had the privilege of hearing from a number of women who have successful careers in academia, industry, and government. They shared their lessons learned, fielded questions, and led discussions about career opportunities and challenges experienced. I cannot possibly capture a comprehensive account of all the great talks and conversations that took place in this workshop, so I provide merely a few personal highlights.

two ladies talking in the hallway

Amanda Goldbeck (R) talking to a participant of the workshop.

Amanda Golbeck introduced the concept of viewing one’s career path as a jungle-gym rather than a ladder. We tend to have the ingrained view of the traditional (and linear) career path, while in reality, to maintain a healthy life–work balance, flexibility is required.  Another grain of wisdom she offered is that being a strong leader is important, but being a valuable team member is paramount. I think this is often forgotten in our power-hungry society, but the truth is that more can be accomplished via cooperation and we should value the cultivation of teamwork skills.

Panel at the women in math workshop

L-R: Ulrica Wilson, Lea Jenkins and Amanda Goldbeck.

Drawing on her experiences at a historically black university, Ulrica Wilson offered a great explanation as to why having workshops such as this one is not only relevant, but important for increasing and maintaining diversity. When we take the time to create this space, we are able to stop focusing on what makes us different and just focus on the math—which is really what we were all drawn to when we chose this pursuit in the first place!

Marie Davidian gave a fascinating overview of notable women in the mathematical sciences, both in the past and the present. I was captivated with the story of the trailblazer Gertrude Cox, founding head of the (then-named) Department of Experimental Statistics at NCSU in 1941. Her recommendation for the position came in the way of a footnote appended to a letter containing a list of recommended male peers: “Of course if you would consider a woman for this position, I would recommend Gertrude Cox of my staff.” This truly puts into perspective how far the community has come with regard to gender equality.

The workshop attendees were energetic and engaged, which made the panel-led discussions and breakout sessions (not to mention breaks) both stimulating and fun. The participants were largely graduate students and early career scientists, who had plenty of thoughtful questions for the expert representatives from academia, industry, and government. Even though I may have been cast as one of the experts, I found that I learned a lot and left the workshop with a to-do list of actions I am interested in taking. In particular: joining a mentor network, engaging more in professional society events, and advocating for family leave benefits.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to consider the challenges, and solutions to those challenges, faced by women and minorities in the mathematical sciences. I’d like to thank SAMSI for hosting this event and allowing us to gather and reflect on both the progress that has been made, and the issues that remain. It is only through this type of directed intention that we may continue to move towards equality.

Statistical Methods and Analysis of Environmental Health Data

The following was written by SukhDev Mishra,Ph.D., Division of Bio-Statistics, National Institute of Occupational Health, Indian Council of Medical Research, Ahmedabad(India)

group shot

Statistical Methods and Analysis of Environmental Health Data Workshop group.

I was fortunate to attend the SAMSI workshop on Statistical Methods and Analysis of Environmental Health Data last week in Mumbai. It focused on various topics related to the statistical analysis of environmental health data, some of which discussed latest methodological development in this field, particularly during the first day’s opening lecture from Professor Joel Schwartz.

Time series data has proven to be critical in the assessment of systematic impact of environmental factors on human health. Professor Francesca Dominici, a researcher with significant contributions in this area was a very dynamic and enthusiastic co-leader for this workshop. She discussed in length the statistical principles and assumptions of multi-site time series analysis along with careful interpretation of such data. Due to technological advances and regular measurement availability, time series data could be accessed and easily analyzed with the techniques elaborated by Professor Dominici, which will be integral to the success of my future studies.

Working Group 5 - Gene x Environment Interactions

Working Group 5 – Gene x Environment Interactions

The Gene x Environment Analysis & Epigenetics lecture taken by Professor Bhramar Mukherjee provided very useful information on interaction/additive and multiplicative models citing practical applications in area of environmental health that she developed. Her very creative way of teaching, blended with great sense of humor, kept us engaged so much so that we wouldn’t blink for a second.

Spatial statistics is a critical part for environmental health data, so it was helpful to have the basics covered by Dr. Safraj Shahul Hameed and Dr. Brian Reich well. Professor Donna Spiegelman presented a wonderful talk on measurement error starting from statistical notations to complete logit function (being a statistician ….I always love this part J ). She put great effort explaining Regression calibration method for MS/EVS and algorithms. Interesting talk!

Working groups were engaged in different exercises that included working on different problems/real data sets generated through various participants and coming up with new analysis and interpretation of data. I worked on Exposure Modelling of Ambient and Household Air Pollution for Acute and Chronic Health Effects. I enjoyed working with my fellow WG colleagues- Kalpana Balakrishnan, Santu Ghosh, Donna Spiegelman, Kevin Lane, Joel Schwartz, Sourangsu Chowdhury , and Poonam Rathi. Fine scientific arguments during the process of analysis were the crux of our exercise; thanks to Joel, Kalpana, Donna and Kevin especially.

This is no way a comprehensive description of this workshop, just my thoughts. I would also like to record here that I learned from each and every speaker and fellow participant. It was a gathering of great scientific minds and very inquisitive researchers. My understanding is that one of SAMSI’s objectives is to foster a culture of collaborative research among Indo-US researcher in area of public health; and I could see that coming true as we collectively discussed ideas on how to continue our work in mutual scientific engagement. I hope these efforts result in great scientific endeavors in coming time for environmental health priorities.

People drinking tea during a break

Enjoying afternoon tea.

One of the unique features of this workshop was meticulous planning by the team of organizers, be it scientific contents or overall execution by Professor Richard Smith, Professor Sujit Ghosh, Professor Francesca Dominici, and Ms. Krista Coleman whose scientific management and interaction with participants was very encouraging.

My working experience mainly includes working in pharmaceutical industry earlier, as biostatistician, and I consider myself a beginner in environmental health. This workshop has helped me to gain more scientific perspectives in this area by leaps and bounds.

This kind of knowledge sharing exercises may prove very helpful for researchers in the area of statistics and epidemiology to address India’s most pressing public health needs. Thank you SAMSI, Harvard, ISI-Kolkata and all of the other participating organizations for such a wonderful experience!



Five things I learned at the Forensics Tutorial

fingerprint analysis lab

Participants got to try their hand at doing a fingerprint analysis.

I don’t know about you, but I am fascinated by forensics. Crime scenes are puzzles waiting for someone to solve. So, I, along with some other staff members, sat in on part of the Forensics tutorial held in August.

Here are five things I learned while I listened in on the tutorial:

1)Unlike “CSI” or whatever your favorite cop show might be (mine is “Dexter”), the methods used at the crime scene are not nearly as scientific as you would expect. That’s where statisticians and applied mathematicians come in. There is a plethora of areas where adding statistical or mathematical methodologies to the field of forensics can make a tremendous impact in helping law enforcement catch the right people.

2)A lot of forensic evidence comes from inductive inferential processes, which is not a very good/reproducible way to gather evidence. Bill Tobin, from Forensic Engineering International, told us that they do not share error rates and there is no “peer review” for the evidence.See one of his presentations here.

3)There are many factors that are often overlooked or are not explored in firearm toolmark evidence (Firearm toolmarks are used to associate or eliminate a particular firearm as a murder weapon comparing characteristics imported to bullets and cartridge cases when it cycles through a gun.) but there are ways that forensic experts could use a more scientific approach to make this a more credible piece of evidence. See Cliff Spiegelman’s talk for more information about this.

Andy Parker dusting for fingerprints

Andy Parker shows the group how he dusts for footprints.

4)Andy Parker from the Wake County Crime Bureau Investigation team is awesome! He talked about what his job entailed and showed us several slides (sorry, they cannot be shared) of dead bodies and had us guess if it was a murder, suicide or death by accident. Then he explained how one could conclude which was correct. Later, he had us all gather around and showed us how they dust for prints, including footprints. It was really neat!

Herbert David Sheets

Herbert David Sheets, Canisius College and University at Buffalo, talks about bitemarks.

5)The uniqueness of bite marks is not been scientifically established, and the uniqueness of a bite mark to make a unique pattern in someone’s skin has also not been scientifically established. See Herbert David Sheets’ presentation for more info.

Overall, this is a fascinating topic that applied mathematicians and statisticians have traditionally not been involved with, but that needs your attention. Saving an innocent person from being in prison and/or catching a criminal who may still be free is vital to keeping our society whole. You can still get involved by attending one of SAMSI’s subsequent workshops which will be posted on the SAMSI website sometime in the near future.

Takeaways from the Bayesian Nonparametrics Workshop

The first entry is from Chetkar Jha, PhD Student at Missouri University.

Group shot at SAMSI's Bayesian Nonparametrics Workshop

Attendees at the SAMSI Bayesian Nonparametrics workshop.

A couple of weeks back, I attended a workshop on “Bayesian Nonparametrics” organized at Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) .

It was a 4-day-long workshop on Nonparametric Bayesian. The goal of the workshop was to brainstorm on some of the pressing problems related to Nonparametric Bayesian and discuss possible solutions as a group. Let me describe the format of the workshop to give you some flavor. Each day was divided in two halves: morning session and afternoon session. In the morning session there were presentations on Nonparametric Bayesian and that would lead to brainstorming sessions on related problems in the afternoon session. Since, we’re working in smaller groups that gave us a lot of latitude to discuss the topics closely and ask a lot of questions and clarifications. I, for one, really enjoyed talks and discussions on convergence/contraction, variational inference, MCMC methods and scalable models. Being a graduate student, there was a lot of new content for me and it was harder to assimilate but the workshop gave me exposure to lot of new content and some topical problems.

Person talking at the Bayesian Nonparametric workshop

Interesting lectures were presented.

The workshop was attended by some of the leading researchers in the field. It was sort of a ‘fanboy’ moment for me, as I was only aware of their names and their work. The workshop provided a perfect opportunity to meet ’real’ people behind the names. Also, I loved the energy and the passion that the group shared for Non Parametric Bayesian that was really motivating and hopefully, some of it did get rubbed on me.

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers and people at SAMSI, who did a wonderful job in organizing the entire event. Hopefully, we can have more such workshops in the future.

The second entry is from Dootika Vats, PhD Student in the School of Statistics at the University of Minnesota

My build up to the 4th of July weekend turned out to be a rather educational experience. I was fortunate enough to attend SAMSI’s workshop on “Bayesian Nonparametrics: Synergies between Statistics, Probability and Mathematics” from June 29th to July 2nd. This was my first visit to SAMSI and to the Research Triangle area. The first thing that stands out about the area is how green it is! Calming stretches of green fields and trees, make for an ideal research environment.

Driveway with grass and trees.

Driveway to SAMSI’s building in RTP.

The 4-day workshop followed the 10th Conference on Bayesian Nonparametrics held in Raleigh from June 22-26. Many participants of the workshop had attended both events, which made the workshop a great platform to discuss key points and ideas that came out of the conference.

The workshop was attended by professors, postdocs and graduate students from all over the world. We were a small group of people that came with varied research focuses to contribute to/learn about Bayesian nonparametrics. The days were packed into discussion style seminars in the morning, followed by a delicious lunch spread, and breakout groups in the afternoon. Each day had a somewhat broad, yet specific focus of interests like multi-resolution methods, high dimensional analysis, scalability and optimization, and theoretical developments.

Food at the SAMSI workshop

The food at the workshop was splendid!

The breakout groups really made this workshop different from other conferences and programs I had attended before. Each group was led by an expert in the field, and the audience could choose any group that appealed to them. Most groups ended up with 5-10 people at most. This made for an extremely educational experience for a graduate student such as myself. We got an insight into how experts in the field approach a problem and attempt to come up with plausible solution paths. Just observing these world-class researchers openly think about a problem and having the opportunity to ask trivial questions was worth the trip!

Apart from reading an introductory paper, I was not very familiar with Bayesian nonparametrics. My research is on Markov chain Monte Carlo(MCMC) algorithms so, of course, there were times when I did not quite understand the questions put forth in discussions or the even the problem at hand. However, since there were so many young researches, post-docs and new faculty, it made it easier to ask “stupid” questions. The workshop also held a poster session for young researchers to talk about their own research. I was able to present my work on MCMC output analysis and discuss ideas and improvements over delicious food and drinks.

SAMSI Bayesian Nonparametric poster session

People talking at the poster session.

Overall, I think SAMSI put forth a wonderfully organized workshop. I came back with a better understanding of Bayesian nonparametrics and with feedback and ideas for my own research. The logistics of the workshop were also well managed with frequent communications from the staff about the schedules. And, of course, the almost endless supply of coffee was deeply appreciated! I will definitely keep a lookout for more SAMSI events and encourage other graduate students to apply for such workshops and conferences.

Why you should attend the SAMSI Forensics 2015-2016 opening workshop

The following was written by Dr. Clifford Spiegelman, Distinguished Professor of Statistics at Texas A&M and one of the program leaders for the 2015-2016 SAMSI Program on Statistics and Applied Mathematics of Forensic Science.

Cliff Spiegelman

Dr. Clifford Spiegelman

Imagine having a nightmare where nearly all evidence presented in courts was seriously misrepresented. No, not a nightmare about someone accused of being a witch, but a more current trial. Say the defendant is accused of rape or murder and all the scientific evidence presented was seriously misrepresented and biased toward the prosecution. It would not be a pleasant dream, but it is today’s reality, and that is worse than a nightmare as it is real. Within the last months the FBI has admitted to over representing the importance of hair matches for decades. Prior to that in 2007 CBLA or comparative bullet lead analysis was another procedure used for decades where the FBI admitted to overstating the importance of a match.

Forensic science is inherently a field that uses data (patterns, pictures, etc.) to link suspects to crimes. Unfortunately, the use of formal statistical methods or even statistical or mathematical thinking is uncommon.

That is where you can help. There is a dearth of persons, as in way to few mathematical scientists, that are aware of the issues.

What are the issues?

Well one can read the summary of the 2009 NRC report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward” to get a good overall view. Here are some of my recent consults: A defendant was charged with indecent contact with a minor. The minor had chlamydia but the defendant did not and was not treated for chlamydia. What is the probability? In another case a convict has been in jail for 40 years largely based upon hair and fiber evidence. The hair evidence was inconclusive. That is the crime lab hair examiner testified that there were both similarities and dissimilarities between the pubic hairs found at the scene and on the defendant. Subsequently some inconclusive results (not the case in question as the evidence has gone missing) have been investigated using DNA. What are the odds that an inconclusive microscopic hair analysis has a DNA analysis that excludes the defendant? It is more than ½.

The opening workshop will look at various forms of traditional pattern evidence. These include fingerprints, firearm/toolmarks, shoeprints etc.. Help become part of the birth of taking forensic science from oxymoron state to a real science.

The opening workshop program can be found here. Read more about the overall program here, and if you want to learn more about forensics before the opening workshop, consider attending a special tutorial a few days before the big event begins.

Please join us. You can make a difference to the legal system and make our country a more just place.

Affiliates Meeting in Miami Covers Review Processes, Availability and Quality of Data and More

two people talking

Neung Soo, NISS, and John Eltinge, BLS.

The following was written by Neung Soo Ha, postdoctoral fellow for SAMSI and NISS.

The National Institute of Statistical Sciences (NISS) and the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) held its annual Affiliates meeting on March 15 at Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami, Florida, in conjunction with the Eastern North American Region (ENAR) meeting. About 30 affiliates and board members attended the meeting. The acting director, Nell Sedransk, provided a brief history of NISS. She explained that the purpose of being an affiliate is about active involvement with the research program development, such as planning conferences and workshops. She finished by talking about the new website for NISS and asked for input from every affiliate member.

Nell Sedransk talking

NISS Acting Director Nell Sedransk gives an overview.

Sujit Ghosh, SAMSI’s deputy director, gave a description about SAMSI and some of its programs, including workshops, working groups, and education outreach programs for undergraduates and graduates. He showed how affiliates can be involved with developing future programs.

Sujit Ghosh

SAMSI Deputy Director Sujit Ghosh speaking to the affiliates.

The morning session ended with presentations from three postdoc researchers from NISS and SAMSI. First presenter was Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez who is a first year postdoc from SAMSI. His presentation was about analyzing the jaguar population in Central and South America. Second presenter was Neung Soo Ha, who is a second year postdoc from NISS. He presented an analysis of insurance rates for Florida in 2010. The last presenter was Hang Kim, who is a third year postdoc from NISS, who talked about data confidentiality.

Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez

SAMSI post doc Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez, shares his research with the affiliates.

In session 2, there was a panel about effective reviewers. The panel members included: Michelle Dunn, National Institute of Health program director, Sujit Ghosh, SAMSI deputy director and former National Science Foundation program director, and Xihong Lin, professor at Harvard University, School of Public Health.

The goal of the session was to foster a clear understanding of review processes and grant proposals from reviewer and reviewee’s point of view. Dr. Dunn described about how the program directors are usually the ones who decide on the funding decisions for the project, yet those people might not be the experts in the field for the proposed program. Thus, when the principal investigators write the proposals, they should always keep in mind about whom would read and make decisions on the project.

room of people sitting

There were about 30 people at the affiliates meeting in Miami, FL.

The next two panel members talked about the review processes for proposals and journals. Dr. Ghosh said that the reviewing the proposals should focus on overall ideas rather than being technical and should make judgements on contents. Dr. Lin talked about reviewing for journals. It’s important for the journal reviewer to see what is novel about the article and to provide constructive criticism on methodologies.

Session 3 was about availability and quality of the data. The panel members were: David Madigan, professor, Columbia University; Patrick Ryan, research associate, Janssen Research and Development; Rima Izem, researcher, Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and John Eltinge, director of research at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They all talked about the concept and the availability of “Big” data from different fields, and how the data can be used for analysis and how results can propagate to the population.

Sally and Ruth sitting at a table

Sally Morton, professor, University of Pittsburgh; and Ruth Pfeiffer, director, National Cancer Institute.

The last session was about the leadership skills. The panel members included: Sally Morton, professor, University of Pittsburgh; Ruth Pfeiffer, director, National Cancer Institute. They talked about what makes an effective leader and agreed that a leader should be a person with a vision and clear objectives. Dr. Morton emphasized that a leader should also have an understanding about both the financial and human resources, and it is important for institutions to have a program for leadership skills for junior researchers. Dr. Pfeiffer described that a person with authority does not equate to a person with leadership, and that a lower ranked person can also have a leadership skills. She also mentioned that a person can acquire leadership skills through proper trainings.

All in all it was a very informative meeting.

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.

SAMSI Paleo Family’s Secret to Staying Together for Many Years

The Paleo Family

The Paleo Family (minus one) (Left – Right): Martin Tingley, Liz Mannshardt, Bo Li, Peter Craigmile and Murali Haran.

Sometimes groups are meant to be. Take a working group that focuses on Paleoclimate data, who now affectionately calls itself the “Paleo Family.” This group started over five years ago at a program on Space-time Analysis for Environmental Mapping, Epidemiology and Climate Change at SAMSI’s opening workshop. Usually most groups dissipate after the research program is formally over, but some are still very active even several years later.

The group had started out as a larger group, but has whittled down to six people including former SAMSI postdocs Bala Rajaratnam, (now an Assistant Professor at Stanford University), Martin Tingley (now Assistant Professor at Penn State University), Elizabeth Mannshardt (now a Postdoc at North Carolina State University) and Murali Haran (Associate Professor at Penn State University) along with Bo Li (Associate Professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Peter Craigmile (Associate Professor at The Ohio State University).

The group focused on the science of reconstructing past temperatures based on proxy records such as tree rings, lake sediments and ice cores. Modern instrumental records of weather only date back to about 1850, so proxies can help extend records to at least another 1,000 years.

The group has published “Piecing together the past statistical insights into paleoclimatic reconstructions,” in the 2013 Quatenary Science Reviews 35, 1-22; which is also referred to as the “monster paper,” by the group. This paper has been referenced in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. This paper outlines the statistical challenges of using instruments and proxies to reconstruct past climate, in space and time, and lays out a flexible, Hierarchical framework for the reconstruction problem. Martin says, “Our goal was to demonstrate that more sophisticated statistical techniques allow the data to be used to address more scientifically interesting questions.”

Subsets of the group have published a number of relevant papers including, “Statistical modeling of extreme value behavior in North American tree-ring density series.” in the 2013 Climatic Change, 117, 843-858 and Tingley, Martin P. and Bo Li, comments on “Reconstructing the NH mean temperature: Can underestimation of trends and variability be avoided?” by Bo Christiansen. Journal of Climate 25: 3441-3446, 2012, and they have contributed to discussions of other paper. The group is in the middle of preparing another peer-reviewed paper. Martin says, “An important goal of paleoclimate science is to use the longer time frame afforded by the proxies to provide out-of-sample assessments of the climate models that are used to project future climate. We are building hierarchical statistical models to rank simulations of past climate based on their agreement with proxy-derived reconstructions.”

The “monster paper” was also used as the basis for a paleo climate seminar course at The Ohio State University (OSU) in 2012, “Statistical Methods: Paleoclimate Data and Models”. Martin and Peter gave lectures there, as well as Mark Berliner, professor of statistics at OSU and Jason Box, visiting scholar at the Byrd Polar Research Center and Professor at the Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

Bala Rajaratnam (L) and Elizabeth Mannshardt (R)

Bala Rajaratnam (L) and Elizabeth Mannshardt (R) recently visited SAMSI.

“I don’t think there had been something previously that laid out statistical considerations or methods when you are working with paleo data,” remarked Elizabeth.

Each person in the group comes from different research backgrounds so each person brings some unique skill to the group. Also, diversity is another thing that we are proud of the group. We come from six different countries across four different continents, so our discussions and research are the integration of strength from different cultures.

Martin helped set the agenda early on because he had the background working with paleoclimate data. Martin said, “This group has been an incredible opportunity and resource for me — five statisticians who are willing to learn enough science and teach me enough stats that together we make progress. I view my main responsibility as keeping the group engaged by hunting down interesting problems.”   The statisticians work in a range of fields from applied to methodology, and including theoretical statistics research.   Each brings different strengths and insights to the group. “Peter is the king of code. He programs faster than I can type!” said Elizabeth.

“The group has been very supportive to each other, even on other professional items such as helping each other out when someone is job hunting,” noted Bala. “It is also entertaining to see how long it takes six Ph.D.s to all get on Skype at the same time too,” quipped Elizabeth.

Our group formed a special session on paleoclimate at the Purdue Symposium in 2012. “I was thrilled to have my friends gathered in West Lafayette, and had discussions in person,” said Bo.

And what, exactly, is the secret to their success? “We picked a topic that was very interesting. We are all open-minded. We like to tease each other and everyone is fair game, and we even poke fun at ourselves. I think we really genuinely like each other,” said Bala.  “At the beginning of each semester, we all get together to figure out when we can carve out the one hour a week to meet with each other. We all still consider this very important”, said Elizabeth.

Thanks to a comment on a climate debate blog, the group has their rock band name: “Tingley and the Flamboyant (Professional) Statisticians!”

Our Experience Talking to Undergraduates at the Field of Dreams Conference

By Kimberly Kaufeld and Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez, both postdoctoral fellows at SAMSI this year.

Kimberly Kaufeld at the podium

SAMSI postdoc Kimberly Kaufeld speaking at the Field of Dreams Conference in Arizona

A few weeks ago, Daniel and I had the pleasure of presenting and attending the Field of Dreams conference in Phoenix, AZ. The conference is supported by the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences and is for underrepresented undergraduate students in the mathematical sciences. The conference hosted workshops on how to network at conferences, interview for graduate school, and talk to schools and institutes such as SAMSI that offer workshops on various topics in the field.

Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez at the podium

SAMSI postdoc Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez presenting at the Field of Dreams Conference.

Daniel and I had the opportunity to present our research along with other postdocs from institutes in the mathematical sciences at the conference.  It was a great way to exhibit how different examples of research in the mathematical and statistical fields of ecology, cancer research, topology, and structures tie together in the sciences. It also a way to demonstrate what types of work one can do and communicate to undergraduates the exciting opportunities there are in mathematical and statistical research.

crowd shot of the students at the conference

Students listen to the speakers intently.

One of the things that impressed me was the excitement and drive of the undergraduates attending this conference. At our SAMSI table in the evening, Daniel and I were able to talk to undergraduates about the undergraduate workshops SAMSI offers each year, which many were excited to hear about. The juniors and seniors asked insightful questions about SAMSI and what led Daniel and I to the field of statistics. It was also when we got the chance to hear his/her background, what their goals are, and what they want to do in the future. It was impressive to hear what they had to say. Some of the undergraduates already narrowed down to the exact field they wanted to go into as they already starting projects related to neuroscience, statistical ecology or biostatistics. The conference opened the undergraduates’ eyes to the possibility that they can succeed if they put themselves out there. They made the right first step, attending the field of dreams to network and create opportunities for themselves.  They will one day make up the field and I was fortunate enough to talk to them. I hope that I am able to attend more in the future.



Impressions from the Undergraduate Workshop on Data-Driven Decisions in Healthcare

big group of students outside SAMSI

February 2013 Undergraduate Workshop participants.

SAMSI recently held the Undergraduate Workshop on Data-Driven Decisions in Healthcare for about 30 students. Visiting professors, postdoctoral fellows and graduate fellows who are participating in this SAMSI program led the sessions providing cutting-edge research into the lectures. Students had a chance to work with data from the SEElab at Technion in Israel, got an overview of personalized medicine and a tutorial in R and a demonstration of the ARENA software.  Here are a few of the students’ impressions from the workshop.

Eric Laber instructing students

Eric Laber, NCSU, giving lecture at the workshop.

Eric Kernfeld, Tufts University Class of 2014, Applied Mathematics

“I had a great time at the workshop on Data Driven Decisions in Health Care this past weekend. It was a nice opportunity to meet statisticians, something I don’t get the chance to do back at Tufts. I also met a lot of undergraduates majoring in statistics and mathematics. The food was good, the staff were welcoming, the accommodations were convenient, and the talks were well-pitched. I recommend SAMSI workshops to anyone who’s interested in the topics, especially to people considering graduate education down the road.”

Danielle Llanos, Georgetown University

“I thought the SAMSI workshop was wonderful. It was a great opportunity to learn from talented individuals, and a chance to expand my network. The lecture topics were incredibly interesting and were very relevant to my career goals. Probably the best part of the workshop was the graduate student panel. The ability to ask those burning questions and learn from the experiences of others was great. I would recommend any SAMSI workshop to students looking to learn more about opportunities in the sciences, and expanding their educational experiences.”

three students at table

Students networking at lunch.

Brittany Boribong, sophomore, biomathematics major at University of Scranton

“As a student with no background in statistics and programming, I found the workshop a bit overwhelming but no less interesting. Coming into this with no experience just allowed me to take that much more out of the workshop.  I was able to explore new fields of math that I never considered before and learn about topics that I had no idea even existed. As a Biomathematics major, I found the topic of using data to derive decisions in healthcare intriguing since it is an application of my major that I was not aware of. Another wonderful aspect of the workshop was the chance to speak to people in different fields. During lunch, I had the opportunity to speak to a post-doc fellow and during dinner, I spoke to one of the professors that gave a lecture earlier in the day; these opportunities don’t come along every day. It was enjoyable hearing their stories and being able to have a casual conversation with them. The panel made up of current graduate students and post-docs was also helpful in that they were able to share their experiences about graduate school and offer along any advice. I found it particularly helpful since one of the speakers was currently in a biomathematics program and I was able to ask questions I had about my major.

However, the best part of the workshop, in my opinion, was being to meet other students. Coming from a university with a smaller math department, I really enjoyed meeting students from around the country with interests similar to my own. It was great being able to make connections with students in different fields and from universities from all over. Overall, I had a wonderful time meeting new people and exploring different fields of mathematics during the workshop and found this to be a great experience.”