Student Modelling Weeks
By Niall McInerney
Study groups with industry can be an intimidating environment for early stage researchers. The unstructured nature of solving a real world problem in the company of Professors can be incredibly daunting, and often an MSc or early PhD student is not yet equipped with the skills necessary to contribute to the problems at hand.
It is for this reason that student-modelling weeks can be so valuable. They serve as a gentle introduction to working in this type of setting, with the industry rep being replaced by an experienced mentor, and the scary professors replaced by peers at similar stages in their career. The problems are often diluted versions of old study group problems, so the students get a real feel for the types of approaches and ideas that typically arise in this type of problem solving.
In September of 2016 I attended a MI-NET sponsored modelling week in Glasgow. There were over 40 participants from all over Europe, working on problems involving the complex modelling of the heart, developing models for drug discovery, and modelling drug release from orthopedic implants, which I worked on. Our approach involved developing simple mechanistic PDE models accounting for diffusion and convection of the drug molecules then prescribing suitable boundary and initial conditions for the particular case. When we had a grasp on the simpler problem we would then refine the model by reducing the number of assumptions and prescribing more realistic conditions. The skill set of the group was quite varied with some students more comfortable with numerical simulations of the processes and others preferring to seek analytical or approximate solutions. This balance worked well as there was good crossover between the approaches, with students often jumping between subgroups when they thought they could help.
This project was very similar to my own PhD topic, which looks at drug release from swelling polymers. Watching the myriad of ways different people would approach the one problem was fascinating, and left me feeling reinvigorated with plenty of new ideas for my own research upon returning to Limerick. One of the major benefits of attending a student-modelling week is to get this experience of working with a diverse group, often complete strangers, comprising of multiple nationalities and mathematical backgrounds. The tasks of setting short term goals and deadlines, splitting up and balancing the workload, discussing strategies and sharing knowledge are all transferrable skills that simulate not only a study group but most work settings.
The UL SIAM Student Chapter has received funding from MI-NET to run a student-modelling week from the 5th-8th June in the University of Limerick. This event is being aimed at all MSc and PhD students working in the field of mathematics, and will prepare students to participate in the ESGI141 in UCD from 25th-29th June. There will be problems ranging from time series modelling, data driven stochastic dynamics, fluid mechanics and pharmaceutical engineering, with mentors who are leading researchers in their fields. There are grants available to any student who wishes to travel to the event, and for any further information please visit https://sites.google.com/view/ulssc/home.
Niall McInerney is a PhD student at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the University of Limerick. Niall works with Dr Sarah Mitchell and Professor Stephen O’Brien and his research is funded by Science Foundation Ireland grant 12/IA/1683.