What is your role at the BSU?
I am a Research Associate, so essentially a junior researcher. I am working with Sylvia Richardson and Paul Kirk on developing statistical algorithms using a methodology called Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) to analyse biomedical data more efficiently. I am also affiliated with a research grant called Bayes4health, and I collaborate with other affiliates in the UK on topics such as MCMC and Piecewise Deterministic Markov Processes (PDMPs).
What did you do before joining the Unit?
I was at the University of Manchester, finishing my PhD in Applied Mathematics. My PhD thesis was about PDMPs, and how to make them more generally applicable and improve their performance within MCMC algorithms.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on many projects at the moment, which is what tends to happen when you work with creative, competent, and reliable people. Some projects are about improving the performance of MCMC algorithms on mixture models, which are mathematical models used to find clusters within the data, and are used e.g. to find gene associations in cancer biology, but also to understand which stars are part of which galaxy in a picture of the sky. Some projects are about quantifying the numerical error introduced in MCMC algorithms when using numerical approximations. Some other projects involve constructing MCMC algorithms based on recent developments on a mathematical property called irreversibility, to improve on the current gold standard of the field.
What does a typical day in your role involve?
A typical day for me consists of keeping up with the relevant literature in my field, trying to solve research problems, writing code, reading interesting papers from other fields that can help with my research problems, and sometimes a little teaching. I also do less interesting things like sending emails, and filling forms, like everybody else. However, as I am involved in the organisation of projects, conferences, and collaborations, even those mundane tasks play a useful part in making big things happen.
What keeps you motivated?
Whenever you manage to solve a problem that you’ve been stuck on – on your own or working with others – the satisfaction is unparalleled.”
What is your work schedule?
My schedule is quite flexible, depending on the day and on the period. The beauty of research is that you can be relatively free, as long as you maintain your research output. So unless I have a deadline soon, I can work on whatever project tickles my fancy, and even read about topics that I deem interesting but not immediately useful. Researchers essentially have the freedom to define their own schedule to maximise their productivity.
What does your workspace look like?
A computer, a notebook, a quiet room where I can think, and a busy room where I can take breaks. As well as colleagues to discuss problems with, and a big whiteboard to write on.
What is your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?
Solving interesting problems and collaborating with smart and enthusiastic people. Interestingly, being stuck on a problem is not my least favourite part, as that is just part of research. It would not be as much fun if the problems were easy to solve.
My least favourite part is probably dealing with inefficiency in the research pipeline.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Hanging out with friends and pursuing my hobbies, which are many and quite diverse. A point in favour of my job is that the University of Cambridge has a plethora of societies where people share interests like martial arts, creative writing, languages, and music, so there are plenty of opportunities.
What advice would you give to anyone considering your role?
The amount of time you spend working is the largest amount of time you will spend on any single activity in your entire adult life. Having a job you don’t like seems like an awful waste of time.
If you like solving difficult problems in a stimulating environment, maybe research is for you.”