Australian mathematicians rise to the challenge of COVID-19

(This is a guest post by Dr Joel Miller, introducing a miniseries of articles/essays by Australian mathematicians involved in the pandemic response)

Mathematics plays an integral role in our daily lives.  A smart phone that guides you to your destination relies on mathematical routines to calculate your position, other algorithms find the optimal route, and yet others ensure that the communications from your phone are secure.  The central role that mathematics plays throughout scientific disciplines comes largely because our mathematical models of the natural world, built on observation, give us remarkable predictive power and allow us to design systems that perform optimally.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not have time to do careful experiments comparing different policies before implementing them.  What we had was information about how efficiently the disease spreads, some hints that it could spread through asymptomatic or presymptomatic infected individuals, and estimates of the distribution of severity in different age groups.  That knowledge grew as different countries began to experience outbreaks.

Armed with this knowledge policy makers were forced to make decisions about their response.  They needed a way to turn this limited information about the mechanisms underlying disease spread into projections of what the future would hold.  Mathematical modelling was the tool that let us rigorously determine what consequences could follow from different policy decisions and different plausible disease properties.  The modelling effort relied on a wide range of techniques and modellers from different backgrounds and career levels, ranging from student to senior academic, as well as researchers working within health departments.

Lives have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, and by our response to it.  In this series some of the mathematical modellers who played a role in advising Australia’s (thus far) stunningly successful response give their perspective on the role that they played, showing how mathematicians at many levels played a key role in the decisions that led to COVID-19’s effective elimination in Australia.

PhD scholarship: Mathematical modeling in infection and immunity, Infection Analytics Program@Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney

The Infection Analytics Program at the Kirby Institute is looking for talented students with a strong interest in applying quantitative approaches to solving major challenges in infectious diseases, health and immunity.

The Group and Projects

The Infection Analytics Program is a team of mathematicians, physicists and other quantitative specialists, working to understand infection and immunity. The group primarily works on HIV, malaria, and SARS-CoV-2 and has an outstanding track record of research, making a major contribution to the medical and biological sciences. These projects rely heavily on experimental data, and members of the Infection Analytics Program work closely with a number of experimental collaborators from across the globe. Students who join the group will be trained in interdisciplinary research with a strong emphasis on using mathematical and quantitative approaches, as well as experimental and clinical data to better understand topics in infection and immunity, such as how antimalarials alter the course of malaria infection, how to optimise treatment for HIV, how vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 boost immunity, and how immunity affects the progression of all three of these infections.

Scholarships

Applicants are sought for both domestic and international student scholarships for PhD studies commencing in 2022. Student scholarships of up to $38,000-41,000 p.a. are available for a duration of 3.5 years (depending on undergraduate performance).

Applicant Requirements

The Infection Analytics Program at Kirby Institute is an ideal group for students with a quantitative background (mathematics / physics / statistics) aiming to diversify their existing experience in mathematical biology or considering a career change from another quantitative science to mathematical biology.

The scholarships are highly competitive. For local students, first class honours is usually required. For international students, first class honours, a high GPA (>87%) and high ranking in graduate class (top 1-2 in year) in Bachelors degree as well as research experience (>6 month research project) is required. These criteria should be directly addressed in any enquiries on the scholarships.

How to apply

For students to commence in 2022 Term 3 (September), applications are due January 25th. Applications to commence Term 1 2023 (February) will be due April 29th.

Please apply by providing your academic transcripts, CV, and cover letter addressing the eligibility criteria (listed above) to Professor Miles Davenport (m.davenport@unsw.edu.au) or Dr. David Khoury (david.khoury@unsw.edu.au)

Lecturer in Data Science@Victoria Uni Wellington

Close Date for Vacancy: 25 February 2022

Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington is currently recruiting a Lecturer in Data Science.

We seek a dynamic academic with a developing record of research in some branch or branches of a computational field within Statistics and Data Science. The successful applicant will contribute to the Data Science programme at Victoria University of Wellington, interacting with disciplines across the university who are users of Data Science, including bioinformatics, health sciences, and the humanities. The successful applicant will also contribute to the School’s engagement with the wider Data Science community in the capital city and NZ-wide.

The appointee will undertake undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in data science at all levels. They will promote learning among students with a wide range of applied and computational domains within the subjects of Statistics and Data Science. They will undertake supervision of postgraduate research students on both theoretical and applied topics, including students in the workplace seeking to advance their qualifications. They will conduct an ongoing research activity of international standard, in keeping with the university’s emphasis on high-quality scholarship and will contribute to building on the University’s engagement with stakeholders, including through externally funded research.

Ō pūmanawa – About you

Our Ideal candidate will have:

  • A PhD
  • Preferably have spent some years as a Postdoc/Research Fellow
  • A developing record of scholarly research and publication
  • Demonstrated evidence of successful teaching
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Demonstrated evidence of good oral and written communication skills.

The university is committed to building a diverse workforce and the School encourages applicants who are women, other gender minorities, Māori, Pasifika and from other groups underrepresented in the STEM sector.

For the position description please see here. If you have any questions regarding this role please get in touch with A/Prof Ivy Liu, Head of School. More information and application instructions.

Lecturer in Applied Mathematics@Victoria Uni Wellington

Close Date for Vacancy: 25 February 2022

Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington is currently recruiting a Lecturer in Applied Mathematics.

We seek a dynamic academic with a developing record of research in any branch of Applied Mathematics. The successful applicant will help build further links with engineering and the physical sciences and contribute to the Mathematics programme at Victoria University of Wellington.

The appointee will undertake undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in applied mathematics at all levels. They will promote learning among students within a wide range of applied mathematics domains and undertake supervision of postgraduate research students on both theoretical and applied topics. They will conduct an on-going research programme of international standard, in keeping with the university’s emphasis on high-quality scholarship. They will contribute to building on the University’s engagement with stakeholders, including through externally funded research. 

Ō pūmanawa – About you

Our Ideal candidate will have:

  • A Ph.D. in Mathematics or in a related field.
  • Preferably have spent some years as a Postdoc/Research Fellow.
  • A developing record of scholarly research and publication. 
  • Demonstrated evidence of successful teaching.
  • Good interpersonal skills.
  • Demonstrated evidence of good oral and written communication skills.

The university is committed to building a diverse workforce and the School encourages applicants who are women, other gender minorities, Māori, Pasifika, and from other groups under-represented in the STEM sector.

For the position description please see here. If you have any questions regarding this role please get in touch with A/Prof Ivy Liu, Head of School. More information and application instructions.

Meet Professor Jessica Purcell: the Society’s Incoming President

As announced yesterday, Prof. Jessica Purcell has been appointed the new Incoming President. I took the opportunity to pose some questions to her. -Ed

1. When did you decide that mathematics was going to be your career, and what attracted you to the field?

I really liked mathematics classes through high school and university. I liked the logic, the pictures, the puzzles, and I liked understanding how deeper mathematics works and why. At various points in life, I decided that I liked mathematics enough to keep trying for new opportunities: postgraduate study, postdoctoral programs, continuing positions. I’m grateful to have received enough opportunities to make a career!  

2. What do you think is the most important issue facing the Society at present?

In my mind, the most important issues concern promoting mathematical sciences, and representing mathematicians. Mathematics is important. It contributes to science, medicine, engineering, and is an important human endeavour on its own. It has been disheartening to see a weakening of some Australian university mathematics departments in the last two years, which affects the careers of current and upcoming mathematicians, and diminishes our ability to train students and high school teachers. Access to mathematics should not only be for the wealthy and well-connected. On the positive side, the Society is full of outstanding mathematicians who are contributing significantly to Australia and to the field, and it has many friends who love mathematics and support our aims. I think the future of mathematics is bright. 

3. Where would you like the Society to be in 5 years’ time? Or perhaps 10 years’?

I would like the Society to be larger and more diverse. I would love to see more of our PhD students and early career researchers staying on as fully active Society members even when their careers take them outside of academia. I’d like to see more gender diversity, more racial diversity, more willingness to learn from each other across different fields. 

4. What is one mathematical fact or idea you would wish the broader public to know?

I am a big believer in knot theory for the broader public. The field of knot theory encapsules the beauty, the puzzles, and the depth of mathematics, with cool pictures. Knots for the greater good!

Prof. Jessica Purcell

Meet Professor Aidan Sims: the Society’s new Vice-President

As announced yesterday, Prof. Aidan Sims has been appointed the new VP. I took the opportunity to pose some questions to him. -Ed

1.       When did you decide that mathematics was going to be your career, and what attracted you to the field?

It was towards the end of my undergraduate degree. I did a combined degree in maths and computer science. I thought I was going to be a coder/developer, and that there weren’t many jobs for mathematicians. Wrong on both counts! Somewhere around the end of my third year I realised that I really wasn’t a very good coder at all, and that the bit of it all that I really loved was the process of chipping away at the edges of mathematical problem, turning it over and looking at it from all directions, until my brain started to build a picture of what was going on that led me to a solution. Especially doing that collaboratively – bouncing ideas back and forth until understanding emerges. I still love it.

2.       What do you think is the most important issue facing the Society at present?

Equity, diversity and inclusivity. Not just gender equity and diversity. Equity and diversity as a multi-dimensional idea – there are so many different axes of diversity, and 2ⁿ (well, more aptly, the cardinality of a product) grows fast. Maybe if we get better at thinking of it that way, it’ll be harder for anyone to believe that their privileges are somehow the product of being in some imagined natural majority, as opposed to a product of inherited privilege and biased systems. Mathematics is for all.

3.       Where would you like the Society to be in 5 years’ time? Or perhaps 10 years’?

I’d like to see the Society more engaged with the world outside academia. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a mathematical society; but there is plenty of mathematics outside academia. I’d like to see us adjust our view of what makes someone a mathematician. If someone thinks mathematically, if they use mathematical training and thinking in what they do, they’re a mathematician. They might be a mathematician who is a teacher; a mathematician who is a public servant or a politician; a mathematician who is an artist or entertainer; or an entrepreneur or businessperson. All these mathematicians have plenty to offer the Society and we should try to connect with them more. 

4.       What is one mathematical fact or idea you would wish the broader public to know?

That statistics is complicated and that our brains don’t really have good intuition about probability, randomness, and patterns. Our brains have evolved to try to see patterns in the available data. But if you run enough random-number generators for few enough iterations (or measure enough independent variables over a small enough sample), at least one pair of them will be very highly correlated. I wish that more people knew this – knew what questions to ask themselves about the numerical/statistical data they’re presented with – and knew just how much it affects what we see and read in news and social media. In a nutshell, I wish everyone thought that this xkcd comic https://xkcd.com/882/ is as funny as I do.

Prof. Aidan Sims

New Incoming President, and Vice-President

The AustMS welcomes its new members of Council, and is particularly pleased to announce its new Incoming President, Professor Jessica Purcell, and Vice-President, Professor Aidan Sims.


Jessica Purcell: I am a Professor of Mathematics in the School of Mathematics at Monash University. I am also Associate Dean (Research) for the Faculty of Science at Monash University. I was Chair of WIMSIG from 2019 to 2020, and I’m currently finishing up my term as Immediate Past Chair of WIMSIG. My research is in geometry and topology. In research, I work on problems in the overlap of hyperbolic geometry, 3-manifolds, and knot theory. I obtained my PhD in Mathematics from Stanford University, and held positions in the US (a postdoc at University of Texas at Austin, a continuing position at Brigham Young University) and the UK (postdoc at Oxford University). A sabbatical at the University of Melbourne in 2014 helped convince me to move to Australia long term, and I joined Monash in 2015. I seek to make mathematics open and welcoming, and I want to see the support and opportunities to ensure its healthy future.


Aidan Sims: I’m Aidan Sims, currently in the School of Maths and Applied Stats at the University of Wollongong, which stands in Yuin Country. I was born on Anēwan Country (in Armidale), and completed my undergrad degree and PhD (2004) at the University of Newcastle on Awabakal Country. I came to UOW in 2007. My research is focussed on functional analysis and operator algebras, with a few forays into algebra and topology. Personally, I’m especially enthusiastic about promoting equity, diversity and inclusivity in the AustMS and in mathematics more generally.


You can read a short interview with Prof. Purcell here, and Prof. Sims here.

PhD scholarship on game theory and fundamental social and biological interactions@Victoria University of Wellington

  • Full tuition fees
  • Stipend of NZ$28,500 per year (tax free)
  • Due date: Applications will be considered until the position is filled. Applications received by Friday 21 January 2022 will receive full consideration.
  • Start date: Start date is flexible but would preferably be between January and June 2022.

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD scholarship to examine fundamental social and biological interactions using game theory.

Do you want to know why fundamental aspects of social and biological interactions are the way they are? Such as why sexual reproduction nearly always requires two different sexes. And why money is pretty much ubiquitous in human societies.

We do! We see the world through the lens of evolutionary game theory with stochastic interacting agents. They all want to get the best for themselves, and somehow self-organise to find equilibria where nobody is too unhappy.

Constructing and analysing these games requires maths, computer science, and some knowledge of the system we are evolving, which might be the evolution of oogamy, or more generally cooperation within groups. Or something else that’s equally exciting… That’s where you might come in.

For more information and application details, please see this page.

PhD scholarship on modelling spreading processes on real-world networks@UAuckland

  • Full tuition fees
  • Stipend of NZ$28,500 per year (tax free)
  • Due date: Applications will be considered until the position is filled. Applications received by 15 January 2022 will receive full consideration.
  • Start date: Start date is flexible but would preferably be between March and June 2022

Applications are invited for a fully-funded PhD studentship to work on a project modelling and understanding spreading processes on multilayer and multiplex networks.

There is growing understanding that spreading processes on real-world networks are typically moderated or influenced by additional factors, which themselves occur on networks and with feedback loops between the processes on the two networks. These dual spreading processes can occur either across a single node set with multiple edge types (multiplex networks), or multiple distinct node sets, with different edge types within and between the node sets (multilayer networks).

This project aims to understand how the outcomes of spreading processes are affected by the multilayer and multiplex network structures and by different network topologies arising in different applications, for example, by considering how behavioural dynamics can affect contagion in networks of epidemic spread.

You will combine mathematical modelling and dynamical systems methods with practical applications using concrete data to understand the role of social factors in epidemic spread and to investigate the dynamics of these processes.

For more information and application details, please see this page.

Ph.D. position in topological/computational group theory@UNewcastle

A Ph.D. position is available to work with Dr Stephan Tornier and other members of the Zero-Dimensional Symmetry Research Group at The University of Newcastle on the ARC DECRA project “Effective classification of closed vertex-transitive groups acting on trees”.

Candidates with a strong interest and demonstrated skills in at least one of the following areas are encouraged to apply: (topological) group theory, computational algebra (e.g. with GAP), graph theory, combinatorics.

Please direct expressions of interest to stephan.tornier@newcastle.edu.au by January 31, 2021

See https://zerodimensional.group/news/phd_advert.html for further details.

Lecturer in Statistical Inference for Complex Models@QUT

Closing date: 09-Jan-2022

Campus: Gardens Point

Remuneration: Total remuneration range: $119,829 to $142,312 pa (LEVB) (inclusive of $101,257 to $120,255 pa salary and 17% superannuation)

Status: Fixed-term, full-time basis for 4 years

Position contact: Professor Chris Drovandi (07) 3138 1756

The School of Mathematical Sciences at QUT is looking to recruit a Lecturer (Level B) who is able to provide strategic capacity in both research and learning and teaching within the school with expertise in statistical inference for complex models.

We are seeking applicants with expertise in the development of novel statistical methods and algorithms to perform parameter estimation and model selection for complex models, which can have varying levels of intractability. There is an opportunity to collaborate with researchers in domains where complex models are prevalent, such as mathematical biology and epidemiology.

The ideal candidate will have demonstrated expertise in Bayesian statistics, particularly in new computational algorithms and their associated theory. Applicants for this position will ideally have a strong publication track- record (relative to opportunity) in statistics and/or machine learning with an emphasis on computational Bayesian methods.

The candidate will have an ability and strong interest in providing high-quality statistics and data science learning experiences for students in the QUT BMath and BDataSc degrees, as well as for students from other fields where statistics is used, such as engineering, science and health.

For information see here (pdf), and to apply see here.