Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Gregynog Statistical Conference 2016

The Gregynog Statistical Conference is a long running conference, now in its 52nd year. This conference has been running since 1965. The conference has such a long history that its origins predate box-and-whisker plots, bootstrapping and the R language. But statistics has clearly been relevant and important for the last 52 years and will no doubt remain so for the next 52 years.

Gregynog Hall, where the conference is held every year, is in the heart of mid Wales. It is a beautiful old mansion bequeathed to the University of Wales by the Davies sisters, and now used for conferences, music festivals and educational activities, such as our computer science undergraduate weekends away.

This year the conference main themes seemed to be modelling of epidemics, using variants of S-I-R models, MCMC and Markov models in general. Another topic for discussion was p-values, following the Friday evening after-dinner talk on this subject by David Colquhoun. The statistical power of experiments and meta-studies to combine data from smaller studies was also a recurring theme. Some of the talks I enjoyed were by Ruth King, who described how to include time spent in each state (dwell time) in a Markov model, and Simon Spencer who explained S-I-R epidemic models and went on to use MCMC and importance sampling to estimate his model parameters. Also Chris Jewell, who described the challenges of modelling vector-borne disease outbreaks in cattle in New Zealand, while at the same time providing real-time advice to government on how to manage the course of the disease.

The poster session was a little haphazard. Somehow the posterboards hadn't arrived so posters were bluetacked to the cupboards, blackboards and walls. But the range of topics was good, from Sam Nicholls' work on modelling the metahaplome in metagenomics, to students from Warwick working on the approximation of integration and partial derivatives using Gaussian functions, and a meta-analysis of studies on delayed rewards and delayed penalties (receiving £10 today instead of £20 next week, vs minus £10 today instead of minus £20 next week).

Hopefully another new statistics lecturer will be joining our maths department shortly, as we're recruiting at the moment. Statistics underlies almost every area of research now, particularly in the sciences. We do need to make sure that we keep talking to the expert statisticians regularly.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Lovelace Colloquium 2016

This year's Lovelace Colloquium was held at Sheffield Hallam University, last week (March 31st). Sheffield Hallam proved to be a great venue. It's convenient for most people in the UK to get to, with a smart building right by the train station, providing a large poster-exhibiting hall, a modern lecture theatre and a cafeteria, all next to each other.

Every year the Lovelace is an inspiring event. I've now been (and blogged) in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and it gets bigger and better each year. I'm particularly impressed by the first year undergraduates who are up there presenting posters alongside everyone else, talking to employers and thinking about their future careers.

I didn't get to attend many of the talks this year because I spent more time on the desk and doing organisational jobs (and fixing my posters-numbering error, oops!). But there were some really strong posters covering a wide range of computer science topics, including several with live Arduino demos. The end of the day panel session featured questions and advice on where the field is going in the future, the pros and cos of a career in industry vs academia, the challenges of running your own business and questions about recruitment.

This year I was also impressed to chat to many interesting people during the evening social, for example Claire and Emily from Relish Learning. After graduating from uni they worked for others until deciding one day that they could do it themselves. They set up their own business in Sheffield, and now provide digital e-learning, for a wide range of topics. They described how they've been recently training people in the Army on how to change the wheel on a tank (imagine animations of the components required, and the order in which to remove parts, etc). They are now keen to help others to succeed, to encourage them to believe that they can and to talk to others about how they did it.

If you are not recommending this event to your women undergrads in computer science, then they are missing out. Poster presenters get expenses refunded and may come away with a prize, thanks to all the sponsors. Employers are keen to meet them, so they will also come away with contacts to help them apply for a job or placement. The photos of the event give a great impression of what it's really like if anyone needs any further reassurance.

Other summaries of the day: