A Good Experience of an European Study Group with Industry
Hi, My name is Ali Faqeeh. I am a PhD researcher at MACSI, University of Limerick (UL). I would like to talk about the great experiences I had in the European Study Group with Industry (ESGI). The study groups are hold several times each year in different universities and institutions across Europe as well as other parts of the world. In an ESGI, groups of researchers, from postgraduate students to University professors, gather for a week to collaboratively tackle problems that the leading industries are facing. Using mathematical modelling, new approaches are introduced and developed in study groups to tackle prominent problems of leading industries in the way of their technological and economic advancement.
So far I had the opportunity to take part in three study groups, the last was the 110 ESGI which was located in UL. From my point of view, all the three study groups had an acceptable variety of industrial problems, where researchers with various backgrounds such as applied mathematics, statistics, physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, etc., could provide useful insights on at least one of the proposed problems.
Hence, as a postgraduate students with physics and applied mathematics background, I could find problems of my interest, where I could practice my knowledge, learn new skills, and contribute to solving a challenging problem.
These were made possible because of the well-designed program of the study groups and also their great atmosphere. In the first day, the company representatives introduce the problems which follows questions from the audience. From the afternoon of the first day until the afternoon of the fourth day, the researchers are divided into groups, where each group focuses on one of the problems. In each group, an organizer makes a preliminary plan on how to progress on tackling the problem and assigns tasks to each of the members. The members then work on the problem collaboratively. On the last day the results and suggestions to the company are presented by the representative(s) of each group. Afterwards a report on the investigations and results is prepared collaboratively; this report will be submitted in about a month after the study group.
This is a great set up to work with industry and obtain useful experience, and at the same time provide the industry the insights, expertise and input of researchers from different disciplines and with various experiences.
All the three study groups I attended shared the above characteristics. However, there were a two points that distinguishes my last experience in 110 ESGI from the previous ones.
The first thing that I appreciate regarding the problems I choose was that it was very well prepared. One of the important issues that researchers may face in study groups is that what the company proposes is actually its inclination to improve its current technology or approach. Nevertheless, a well-defined problem is absent. In this case, a major effort should be done by the researchers to consider a handful of different scenarios and situations that may be causing a problem(s) or can lead to an improvement over the current set up. A drawback to this situation is that it is difficult to proceed with tackling the considered problems, since the company may not be prepared to provide corresponding information and data that the researches need to progress on solving the problem.
In the 110 ESGI, the group that I joined had a very well defined problem and all the necessary data and information were provided suitably by the company. This was actually the result of the time and effort made before the study group to prepare the problem.
A researcher was appointed to work with the company representatives to acquire a good knowledge of the processes employed in the company, to discuss the possible problems on which the company would prefer to focus, and to collect and clean the necessary data and information by getting in touch with as many as employees involved in the processes. These helped to prepare a well-defined problem which could be investigated with accuracy and in depth at the study group. In this way, I believe, the company can use at best the insight and skills of the other researchers gathered only for week at the study group.
The second strength of our group work at the study group was the nice way the members were coordinated to collaborate. This is not an easy task given the diverse backgrounds, interests, and opinions of the members. In our group, after all the members were introduced, we discussed the problem and devised a plan to tackle the problem. Different approaches were considered and for each approach the methods and tools to be employed were discussed. I think, all the members found the part of their interest, and we could see how each part will contribute to the solution of the problem.
The result was a systematic approach for the company to tackle the problem as well as an introduction to the methods and tools they could use to tackle problems of similar nature in the future.
This was, in my opinion, a very enjoyable and successful experience of a study group.