Bristol Centre for Complexity Sciences (BCCS) Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT): Proposal for renewal

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Engineering Mathematics


The thematic area of Complexity Sciences lies at the heart of many of today's scientific, engineering, medical and societal challenges. Across biological scales from a single cell to the brain to social insect colonies, one sees structures composed of simple components exhibiting complex emergent properties. The adaptability and resilience of complex systems in both biology and engineering, from the immune system and food webs to the Internet and power grids, pose challenges of understanding and improvement.We are growing a hub of theoretical and computational expertise that interconnects with a spectrum of application areas (spokes), each of which is linked to a University Research Theme. Individual application areas drive theoretical & computational developments in the hub, which in turn feed back into other application areas in a virtuous circle. The theory hub consists of core BCCS staff as well as colleagues in Computer Science, Mathematics & Statistics. The 'spokes' are currently grouped within three areas (Biological Sciences, Engineering & Molecular Sciences), with a large number of staff from many departments contributing problems, teaching students, and supervising research. We are considering the incorporation of specific areas in Social Sciences as a further spoke during 2010/2011.By creating a vibrant centre, we have become the focus of activity in Complexity Sciences within Bristol. Without such a centre, much of the work that happens in BCCS could not happen in the single discipline Departments in Bristol. We have already seen the impact of creating a CDT and expect this to grow much further during the coming years.Complexity Sciences is not a Department in its own right at the University of Bristol and there is no undergraduate programme in this area. In order to carry out postgraduate research in Complexity Sciences, students must first follow a structured and coherent training programme that covers a large variety of methodologies. Thus centralised provision of a Taught Programme was deemed to be essential in the initial application, and our experience to date confirms the wisdom of this choice.The MRes/PhD model offers many advantages to the student, in terms of the rigour and quality of the research training, the breadth of perspective and the development of transferable skills such as team working and presentation. The nature of the proposed research area is intrinsically interdisciplinary and requires PhD students to do more than just one research project. They need to acquire the skills that will allow them to adapt to a variety of challenging research questions, as well as to work collaboratively in a team, amid a vibrant atmosphere.

Planned Impact

Skilled people are going to be the most important impact of the BCCS. We expect our graduates to join companies. We also expect BCCS postgraduates to carry out postdoctoral research within academia or to join government departments. We anticipate that companies will benefit in a number of different ways. Our graduates have a unique breadth of experience in Complexity Sciences methodologies, which companies will exploit. This would give these companies a cutting edge that could prove decisive. An example of this potential comes from a group project on cloud computing, where students were exposed to a new approach to commercial and home computing. Cloud computing allows companies to buy computing power on a pay-per-use basis, providing greater flexibility. It gives them the means to temporarily boost their computing capacity, while reducing overheads. In addition, our graduates are used to multidisciplinary work and so could easily adapt to other areas within a company. Within academia, our graduates will bring to postdoctoral work the very latest advances and ideas in an area with a considerable potential to produce transformative research. In short this is an opportunity to establish a world-leading position for the UK in this new thematic area of Complexity Sciences. Looking ahead to the medium term (5-20 years), we believe that our model for postgraduate training will become the norm. We can foresee how all students should receive an in-depth multidisciplinary training, helped by peer mentoring, and at least two supervisors.


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