EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Statistical Applied Mathematics at Bath (SAMBa)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Mathematical Sciences

Abstract

Together with industrial partners, we have established that there is a strong unmet demand for individuals with expertise in the combination of statistics, applied mathematics, computation, and the collaborative problem solving skills required to acquire application area knowledge. Consider, for example, aircraft structural design, where statistical methods have recently been approved in the certification of aircraft, complementing traditional experimental testing. This ushers in a change in possible design methodology, but creates a corresponding gap for the necessary talent in the workforce: scientists with knowledge of materials, computational methods and statistics. Such individuals are needed to sustain the UK's global competitive advantage, industrially and academically. We propose a world leading and innovative cohort-driven centre for doctoral training at the interface of Statistics and Applied Mathematics: Statistical Applied Mathematics at Bath (SAMBa).

Modern mathematical models describing real world applications must incorporate randomness and data in a variety of ways in order to improve their ability to predict complex behaviour and describe empirical observations. Traditionally, deterministic applied mathematics and statistical methods have taken different approaches in modelling observed phenomena. More recently, we have seen that this is proving to be a hindrance to the competitiveness of British mathematics, especially when taking account of the enormous scope for research with genuine real-world impact.

SAMBa will create a new generation of interdisciplinary mathematicians, both for academic careers as well as for insertion into British industry. Their primary strengths will be their problem solving ability and their fearlessness of barriers separating mathematical modelling and modern statistics. Moreover, the implementation of this CDT will promote a novel way of educating UK PhD students within the mathematical sciences, in which there is horizontal cross-disciplinary and industrial integration through CDT activities.

The central mechanism by which this horizontal integration will occur will be through week-long Integrative Think Tanks (ITT), which share similarities with sandpits. These ITTs will be supported by an array of new courses that span a spectrum including statistics, stochastic simulation and applied mathematics.

SAMBa will enrol ten students per year on a four-year study programme. The first year will focus on the new courses and in the formation of research themes, as well as developing cohort integration. ITTs will occur at the end of the first and second semesters during the first year of study, and will give students the opportunity to learn how to formulate problems and structure their approach to problem solving. ITTs will be intensive activities, managed by academic staff together with interdisciplinary and industrial leaders. Students in later years will participate in one ITT per year with a view to enhancing the PhD cohort experience. The expected outcomes of the ITTs will be: to provide real experiences in approaches to problem solving, to promote cross-fertilisation of ideas and expertise through horizontal integration, to build a cohesive PhD student cohort, to catalyse new collaborations, and to provide a source of PhD thesis projects. It is expected that most, but not all, PhD thesis problems and supervisory teams will emerge from ITTs. PhD students will also run a symposium series to prepare for, and subsequently reinforce, the ITT experience as well as to develop the students' sense of research empowerment.

Students in SAMBa will be awarded an M.Res. after one year, subject to successful assessment. In addition, we will strongly encourage three month industrial or cross-disciplinary academic placements. These placements will enhance the horizontal integration and are a natural extension of our long-standing and thriving BSc an MSc placement scheme.

Planned Impact

The impact of the SAMBa CDT will occur principally through the following two pathways:

1. Direct engagement with industrial partners, leading to PhD projects that are collaborative with industry, and that are focussed on topics with direct industrial impact.

2. The production of PhD graduates with
(a) the mathematical, statistical and computational technical skill sets that have been identified as in crucial demand both by EPSRC and by our industrial partners, coupled to
(b) extensive experience of industrial collaboration.

The underlying opportunity that SAMBa provides is to train graduates to have the ability to combine complex models with 'big data'. Such people will be uniquely equipped to deliver impact: whether they continue with academic careers or move directly to posts in industry, through quantitative modelling, they will provide the information that gives UK businesses competitive advantages. Our industrial partners make it clear to us that competitiveness in the energy, manufacturing, service, retail and financial sectors is increasingly dependent on who can best and most quickly analyse the huge datasets made available by the present information revolution.

During their training as part of SAMBa, these students will have already gained experience of industrial collaboration, through their PhD projects and/or the Integrated Think Tanks (ITTs) that we propose, that will give all SAMBa students opportunities to develop these transferable skills. PhD projects that involve industrial collaboration, whether arising from ITTs or not, will themselves deliver economic and social benefits to UK through the private companies and public sector organisations with which SAMBa will collaborate.

We emphasise that Bath is at the forefront of knowledge transfer (KT) activities of the kind needed to translate our research into impact. Our KT agenda has recently been supported by KT Accounts and Impact Acceleration Accounts from EPSRC (£4.9M in total) and a crrent HEFCE HEIF allocation of £2.4M. Bath is at the forefront of UK activity in KTPs, having completed 150 and currently holding 16 KTP contracts worth around £2.5M.

The SAMBa ITTs are an exciting new mechanism through which we will actively look for opportunities to turn industrial links into research partnerships, supported in the design of these projects by the substantial experience available across the University.

More widely, we envisage impact stemming from a range of other activities within SAMBa:

- We will look to feed the results of projects involving ecological or epidemiological data directly into environmental and public health policy. We have done this successfully many times and have three REF Case Studies describing work of this nature.

- Students will be encouraged to make statistical tools available as open source software. This will promote dissemination of their research results, particularly beyond academia. There is plenty of recent evidence that such packages are taken up and used.

- Students will discuss how to use new media to promote the public understanding of science, for example contributing to projects such as Wikipedia.

- Students will be encouraged to engage in at least one outreach activity. Bath is well known for its varied, and EPSRC-supported, public engagement activities that include Royal Institution Masterclasses, coaching the UK Mathematics Olympiad team, and reaching 50 000 people in ten days with an exhibit at the Royal Society's 350th Anniversary Summer Exhibition in 2010.

Publications

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