Interview to the winners of the ECMI Students Competition 2020

The ECMI Students Competition 2020 has been won by two European teams of students, named “Aula Chisini”, composed by Davide FOCCHI, Luca FORLANI, Agnese RADAELLI – Università degli Studi di Milano, and “BILBOMAT”, composed by Carlos Javier PEÑA – Basque Center for Applied Mathematics.

We realized an interview with the winners, and we report here shortly their answers.

The group Aula Chisini
The “group” BILBOMAT
Tell us briefly about yourselves and your education

BILBOMAT: I received my undergraduate degree in Biology from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (2017) and obtained a Master’s Degree in Biostatistics at Universitat de València (2019), where I also completed a 3-month internship at the Laboratory for Research in Behavioral Experimental Economics (LINEEX). Afterwards, I carried out my master’s thesis in the Department of Analytical Chemistry of the Universitat de València entitled “Understanding Sediment Provenance of Soils at the Archaeological Site of Engaruka (Tanzania): A Bayesian Approach”, in which Bayesian methods were applied for the selection of variables and hierarchical modeling. I recently joined the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics – BCAM as a Research Technician within the Applied Statistics group and has worked in several projects related to time series analysis with Bayesian methods since. I was also part of the working group on COVID-19 set up by the center to model the dynamics of the pandemic in the Basque Country.

CHISINI: We are Agnese, Davide and Luca and we are three Mathematics students from Università degli Studi di Milano. We met during our university studies although we have slightly different curricula. All of us studied applied Math but with different shades: Davide has a more Analytical background, Luca a Statistical one and Agnese Probabilistic one.

How do you value initiatives like the ECMI student prize competition? How do you think they can contribute to strengthen international relations in Europe?

BILBOMAT: I would say that this kind of competitions is of great value since it promotes creativity while realizing the answers you can give to real-world challenges based on what you have learned in college. These competitions can also promote the enhancement of international relations by exchanging possible outcomes or findings in order to gain a better solution.

CHISINI: Mathematics is a very transversal subject. We think that is interesting to propose the same problem to students with different academic training. It could be useful to see this as an opportunity of comparison and enrichment by the understanding of different point of views in the problem-solving procedure.In order to do so it could be effective to publish some works or to organise an online presentation day.

What  caught  your  attention  in  the  subject  of   the   competition   and  what tips about how to address similar problems would you give other students thinking of entering the competition?

BILBOMAT: What caught my attention was that the topic was focused on a biomedical problem: allergic diseases due to exposure to pollen. Because of my background as a biologist and biostatistician, I felt it would be a great deal to be able to contribute to this subject. The advice I would give to future student competitors is that whenever they are faced with a prediction problem in which the outcomes are time-dependent, they should include that structure in the model for a more realistic approach. In addition, it should be considered the nature of the outcome. Finally, it is important to note that if the data have many missing values they can make use of the potential of Bayesian statistics so those values can be predicted as well.

CHISINI: During our studies we didn’t have the chance to face problems originated by real data. We were intrigued by the social impact of the task: studying pollen concentration in the air is an important medical problem. Each problem is unique and using real data there is no guarantee that standard techniques lead to satisfactory results. You must be creative and open minded in order to adapt yourself to the specificity of the challenge.

The Covid 19 pandemy has strongly changed our way to work: how did you organise yourselves to prepare the project? How was the interaction with the partners in your team? Tell us a pro and a cons!

BILBOMAT: I think the benefit of working remotely is that it offers flexibility. It gives the ability to start work earlier or later in the day. In other words, it gives you the freedom to make your own schedule.

The main disadvantage is the fact that you had to share the same place for both personal and professional life.

CHISINI:  Along with the rest of the world we were forced to work through online platforms. Individual homework resulted in a continuous stream without having the need to meet up in a specific place and time. By the way gathering is always a source of inspiration so we missed classical teamwork dynamics.

What is the meaning you give to the concept of industrial mathematics? How do you think it can impact the present/future society?

BILBOMAT: Industrial mathematics is the application of mathematics for industrial purposes. It attempts to connect the problems posed by companies with mathematics using its tools. Eventually, the objective is to translate the results in terms of the original problem. We are now undoubtedly in a digital revolution. This is reflected in the growing interest of businesses to recruit professionals with knowledge or ability in mathematics that are able to apply such knowledge in data analyses, modeling or simulation. We cannot think of a field without the application of mathematical methods: life science, environmental science, physics, chemistry or economics.

CHISINI: We think that Industrial Mathematics is the implementation of the efforts made by mathematics community. It is in plain sight of everyone how quantitative models improved everyday life directly and not, for example Logistics and Data Science. 

Tell us about an experience as a student where you benefitted of an international environment

BILBOMAT: I was a collaborator of the XVII Spanish Biometric Conference and the VII Ibero-American Biometric Meeting (, both promoted by the Spanish Biometrical Society.

They were held in València on June 2019 and I also had the opportunity to present some of my internship work on a poster.

CHISINI: Besides ECMI we had the chance to benefit from the Erasmus+ programme. It is the international experience by definition and we got a glimpse of what international cooperation means. It was a highly educational experience because we had the chance to work with students with very different backgrounds.

In a short time, you will enter the job market as a young graduate: where do you see your future? Is your home country the place where you want to pursue a job?

BILBOMAT: In a scientific background such as mine, the work usually consists of collaborating and interacting with people of other countries. Besides, as I enjoy traveling and I am open to living abroad, I do not have any preference as to where to pursue my job at the moment.

CHISINI: Davide is currently working as Data Analyst for an Italian company in the real estate market, in Milan. Agnese and Luca are about to graduate. Luca would like to enter the Medical statistics field while Agnese the Financial environment. Looking at our experience and our academical background we surely are curious about an international career but, due to the current health emergency, we are still uncertain about our future.