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  • 20 Oct 2021 8:45 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Congratulations to our SSA Fellowship Funding Award Recipients!

    The SSA extends our congratulations to our latest SSA Fellowship Funding Award Recipients:

    • Clara Grazian, UNSW
    • David Gunawan, University of Wollongong
    • Lauren Kennedy, Monash
    • Houying Zhu, Macquarie University
    • Tao Zou, ANU

    These early career statistical researchers are currently hard at work on their ARC DECRA Fellowship applications. Those whose DECRA applications are successful will receive $3000 to complement their fellowship activities. We wish them, and all of our members applying for DECRAs and Future Fellowships, all the best in the preparation of their applications. A round to support our members applying for NHMRC Investigator Grants (at the Emerging Leadership level) will be opened early in 2022.

    Jessica Kasza
    SSA President

  • 14 Oct 2021 2:14 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Sieves help us cook pasta and rice, whilst bootstraps come in handy when donning a pair of boots. The September 2021 seminar to the New South Wales branch had nothing to do with cooking or dressing. However, statistics has borrowed these terms quite heavily and Professor Han Lin Shang of Macquarie University's Department of Actuarial Studies and Business Analytics explained how statistical sieves and statistical bootstraps aid the analysis of functional time series data.

    The main parameter of interest throughout the talk was the memory parameter when the time series exhibited long-range dependence. A central question is obtaining confidence intervals for this parameter and a recent Journal of the American Statistical Association paper by the author and two co-authors addressed this problem.

    The rise of functional time series data is due to ongoing improvements in technology, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging for measuring brain function. Han Lin described functional data in stochastic process terms and how functional time series arise when the time series index is a continuous time variable. Despite the continuum aspect of the framework, in practice the measurements are at discrete time points. Professor Shang explained the difference between dense and sparse functional data - with the former having high sampling frequency. Various theoretical constructs such as continuous time covariance functions, Mercer's representation, Karhunen-Loeve expansion and functional auto-regressive integrated moving average models were explained as being useful for analysis of functional time series data.

    Then speaker Shang discussed long-memory processes and formally introduced the memory parameter. Various estimators were described and, based on the speaker's 2020 simulation study, methodology by time series researchers Peng and Whittle were recommended. After that, the branch was told how sieve bootstrapping can be used to obtain confidence intervals for the memory parameter. Simulation results showed good performance of Professor Shang's new methodology.

    At the end of the presentation it was pointed out that the sieve bootstrap approach can be applied to any memory parameter, whilst asymptotic confidence intervals are only possible for a selected range of memory estimators.

    Matt Wand, University of Technology Sydney

  • 11 Oct 2021 4:20 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)



    Widespread job insecurity, a spike in workloads and fatigue, and devastating job losses are eroding the morale of Australia’s science workforce at a time when we need science at its strongest, new research has found. 

    The ual Professional Scientists Employment and Remuneration Report by Science & Technology Australia and Professional Scientists Australia reveals the mounting toll on scientists of the pandemic and longer-term chronic job insecurity.    

    This year’s survey lays bare a steep drop in morale amid growing exhaustion, mounting workloads and job insecurity from short-term work contracts and the high stakes lottery of science careers relying on competitive grants.

    Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said Australia’s scientists desperately needed better job security.

    “There’s a huge risk that many more of our brilliant scientists will hit breaking point and just walk away if we don’t fix this broken system of insecure work,” she said.

    “We need stronger investment in science such as a $2.4 billion Research Translation Fund and much greater job security for scientists to avert a disastrous loss of talent and pursue a science-led recovery.”

    “This year’s federal Budget is a legacy-defining opportunity for a lifeline for Australian science.” 

    Science & Technology President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie said the “pincers of the pandemic and precarious work” were taking a brutal toll on scientists.

    “Australia’s scientists have prevented a vast number of deaths in this pandemic - yet our country isn’t supporting them nearly well enough in return,” he said.

    “We’re seeing rising levels of fatigue, a bleak drop in morale, and widespread job insecurity with job losses at universities and precarious short-term contracts.”

    Nearly two-thirds of scientists surveyed said morale at their workplace had fallen in the last year - a steep spike up from one in two who said morale fell in 2020. 

    And seven in ten scientists said fatigue levels had risen this year - another steep rise from the five in ten who said the same last year.

    Almost one in four scientists in today’s survey said they were on a fixed-term contract, with an average length of 18 months, offering very little job security.

    Modelling by Universities Australia estimated 17,300 jobs were lost at universities in 2020, a devastating toll fuelling workloads and job insecurity for staff who remain. 

    Key findings from this year’s scientists survey include:

    ·         62.5 per cent of scientists surveyed said morale fell in their workplace in the last year. That’s a big jump from 45.8 per cent in 2020.

    ·         70.6 per cent of scientists said fatigue had risen over the past year - up from 54.6 per cent in 2020.

    ·         One in four scientists surveyed were on fixed-term work contracts, with an average contract length of just 18 months.

    ·         39.4 per cent of scientists have not had a pay increase in the last 12 months (with pay freezes at many universities amid the pandemic’s financial hit).

    ·         Women scientists earn just 82.8 per cent of male scientists’ salaries - a gender pay gap of 17 per cent.

    ·         One in five scientists (19.9 per cent) indicated they plan to leave the profession entirely in coming years. This figure was 18.3 per cent in 2020.

    ·         Scientists are working an average of 7.5 hours overtime each week. 58.9 per cent said they received no extra pay or compensation for overtime.


    Science & Technology Australia and Professionals Australia run this survey every year to gather accurate data on salaries and workplace conditions. 

    The survey of 1,275 professional scientists ran in June 2021.

    The full report is here.


    Media contact: Martyn Pearce, Science & Technology Australia - 0432 606 828

    If you or anyone you know needs help:

    Lifeline on 13 11 14

    Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or its COVID-19 support service 1800 513 348

    Headspace on 1800 650 890


  • 6 Oct 2021 5:32 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The SSA Environmental Statistics section proudly announces a new annual student prize for best student paper in environmental statistics.  To be eligible a student must be:

    • An author of a paper that has been accepted in the previous 12 months, having made a substantial contribution to the work
    • A student at the end of semester 1 this year (June 30 2021)
    • A current member of the SSA and the Environmental Statistics Section

    The winner will receive $500 and will be asked to present in an invited session at the next annual stats conference (in 2023). 

    Please submit your nominations to eo@statsoc.org.au, with Tjanpi Award submission in the header, by 5 PM AEDT Thursday November 4th 2021, including:

    • Full name, institution
    • Paper, as one pdf file.
    • Letter of support from supervisor or other academic at the institution, confirming student status of applicant and describing the student's role in the paper. 

          Central Australian landscape dominated by Tjanpi, photo by Sara Winter

    Tjanpi is the Pitjantjatjara word for Triodia, a spiny tussock-forming grass that dominates the vegetation across more than 20% of Australia’s land mass.  It is a long-lived plant that makes deep roots and can withstand the hardiest of conditions.  It can grow over decades into characteristic ring formations three metres in diameter.  As a source of food and shelter, Tjanpi is fundamental to life in some of Australia’s most extreme conditions, being central to highly diverse ecosystems dominated by termites and ants, as well as reptiles, birds and small mammals.  It has also been traditionally used by Indigenous people for a range of purposes, including building shelters, making an adhesive resin, basket weaving, fishing and using its seeds as a food source. 

    Tjanpi is an analogy for the Environmental Statistics student award – because the development and application of appropriate statistical techniques is fundamental to good environmental research, and our hope is that the recipient of this award will grow over the coming decades to become central to a diverse range of interesting research endeavours!


  • 30 Sep 2021 2:09 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The SA branch of the SSA held its Statistics Careers Event on 8 September, 2021. The event was an opportunity for current students and recent graduates to learn about the sorts of roles that statisticians in South Australia are currently working in. A variety of statisticians gave presentations on the places they work, the skills they have developed in their roles, and upcoming opportunities for graduates.

    Sam Rogers represented The Biometry Hub at the University of Adelaide, where statistics and machine learning are used to analyse modern and sophisticated problems in plant breeding, biotechnologies, wine science and human nutrition science.

    Chris Davies spoke about the Australia and New Zealand Dialysis and Transplant Registry (ANZDATA), the national registry which collects data on kidney dialysis and transplant patients.

    Julian Whiting from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) spoke about the role of statisticians in Australia's official statistics agency, and gave some examples of projects he has been involved in.

    Richard Woodman and Barbara Toson from the Flinders Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics (FCEB) discussed their experience of working as statisticians in a medical research group, and the way career paths form out of this work.

    Jennie Louise represented Adelaide Health Technology Assessment (AHTA), and spoke about statistical consulting work and the variety of problems and she and her team have come across.

    Barbara Francis from Avance CRO discussed the sorts of work undertaken by statisticians preparing designs and analyses for clinical trials in a CRO, as well as opportunities and career paths for statisticians in this company.

    Robert Jorissen from SAHMRI spoke about his work on ROSA, the registry of older Australians, and their projects evaluating the epidemiology of aged care in Australia.

    Approximately 15 students attended and enjoyed the opportunity to chat with the invited speakers after the presentations, and were able to gain some insight into their future career paths.

    We thank all the employers and above listed presenters for their continued support of this event within South Australia. All the students had an opportunity to engage and interact with the presenters after the event.

    Annie Conway

  • 27 Sep 2021 10:26 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)


     

    As we hurtle towards the final quarter of 2021, the cumulative effects of lockdowns are hitting hard. We urge everyone in the STA community to ask for help when you need it, and seek out the support and kindness of this remarkable membership network.

    We look forward to seeing many of you at our President and CEO Forum on 11 October. We will convene the nation’s senior STEM sector leadership to set the agenda heading into an election year. This leadership dialogue is always a powerful vehicle for us to use our collective voice. STA is also delighted to be developing an alumni cohort to amplify the work of the Australian Science Policy Fellowship program run by the Office of the Chief Scientist. We will hold a powerful networking opportunity for STA’s senior leaders to expand strategic networks across the public service by meeting Fellows and Alumni at the end of the President and CEO Forum.

    STA has been active on the Australian Research Council pre-prints issue. After a lengthy process, the ARC made a public statement last week reversing the ban on pre-print citations in future funding rounds. The new definition on pre-prints incorporates feedback gathered from our physical sciences members about the myriad tools, datasets and products that are commonly placed on pre-print servers to be cited in cutting-edge research proposals. It is a source of continuing anger in the research community that the revised policy does not resolve the issues for applicants in the current and recent rounds. The ARC is relying on applicants exercising their appeal rights to seek a resolution. STA has continued to raise this matter. Further information on the history of the issue is here.

    There’s a flurry of further STEM policy submissions activity and consultations over the next month. This includes a rapid consultation on standard IP contracts for research organisations, the next steps in the National Research Infrastructure roadmap with an exposure draft expected soon, and an MRFF consultation. More detail on each of these is outlined below. With the change of Science Minister and a new Greens spokesperson on science, we have also renewed relationships with key advisers.

    Our Superstars of STEM continue to smash new media records, with growing public profiles and appearances. Among a host of recent highlights, Superstar Dr Jiao Jiao Li won the Australian final of the Falling Walls competition, and Superstar Dr Vanessa Pirotta and Superstars trainer and Wiradjuri astrophysicist Kirsten Banks appeared on QandA’s science special last night on the ABC.

    Finally, we are in the process of finalising our new Director of Policy and Engagement. I look forward to introducing you to the new appointee soon.

    Until next time, 

    Misha Schubert 
    CEO, Science & Technology Australia 


    MEDICAL RESEARCH FUTURE FUND 2021-26 STRATEGY

    The Australian Medical Research Advisory Board (AMRAB) has opened consultations for the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Strategy. This strategy will be used to ensure a coherent and consistent approach to funding research from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and will be in place from 2021-26. Along with this review AMRAB is also asking for feedback on their related priorities which must be consistent with the strategy. In both cases they are asking:

    • How could the current strategy be altered to better meet the purpose set out in the MRFF Act?;
    • Current critical and future issues and factors impacting on the health system, including primary prevention, and on the health and medical research sector;
    • Options for how the next strategy could address these critical issues and factors; and
    • Given the new and significant impact of COVID-19 on health services and health research how should the new strategy address COVID-19 related topics and impacts.

    A webinar will be held on September 28. Submissions close October 11.

    UNIVERSITY RESEARCH COMMERCIALISATION - IP FRAMEWORK

    As part of the university research commercialisation project being run by the Department of Education, Skills, and Employment, the Department has developed a standard Intellectual Property framework. The purpose of this framework is to enable university-led research commercialisation and collaboration.

    STA will engage in this consultation. We seek your input on questions posed in the consultation paper, including:

    1. Should such standard agreements be mandatory or optional? 
    2. What is needed to ensure the framework can be applied consistently?
    3. What parts of standard agreements need to be flexible rather than fixed?
    4. If you have experience with the current Australian IP toolkit, what has worked and what hasn’t?
    5. Are there other agreements and process that need to be considered in implementing an IP framework (cross-institutional research, international collaborations, IP resulting from PhD candidate research etc)
    6. If this IP framework has merit, should it be applied to ARC and DESE research programs or all publicly funded research?
    7. What materials would make it easier to implement and understand the new framework?

    To provide input to STA’s submission, please email Policy Manager Peter Derbyshire before 8 October.

    Submissions to the department close 18 October.

    NEW REPORTS AND POLICY CHANGES OF INTEREST TO STA MEMBERS

    Reports of interest:

    Opportunities for submissions:

    Further information: Peter Derbyshire, STA Policy Manager - peter.derbyshire@sta.org.au

    STA MEMBER EVENTS OF INTEREST

    To add a conference or event: contact STA Events & Membership Manager Lucy Guest – lucy.guest@sta.org.au

    GRANTS, FUNDING AND OPPORTUNITIES 

    • If you would like to be one of 100 women in STEMM on the next Homeward Bound voyage you should apply by 14 October. The visionary leadership program runs for one year and culminates in a voyage to Antarctica.
    • Applications are now open for the 2021 Tasmanian STEM Excellence Awards, celebrating Tasmanians who have excelled in their field. Apply by 27 September.
    • The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) offers undergraduate students from around Australia scholarships to spend their summer holidays working on supervised research projects. The scholarships are open to honours and masters students, and are a fantastic opportunity to broaden academic interests and experience. Apply by 30 September.
    • The Women in Leadership Development program supports women attaining and succeeding in leadership positions in the STEM sector. Applications are open for their 2022 program until 10 October.
    • Curious Minds are looking for enthusiastic women to become volunteer Curious Minds STEM coaches to empower girls in years 9 and 10 to excel in STEM. Applications close Sunday 3 October.
    • Women & Leadership Australia is offering partial scholarships to women in STEM areas wanting to undertake leadership training. Applications close 24 September.
    • The ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science is looking to fill two Research Fellow positions open to female applicants only at a Centre node and in a related research area of your choice.

    STA MEMBER STORIES 

    Do you know of a terrific STEM idea, technology, innovation, product or program that has been successfully commercialised? Then we want to hear from you. STA is launching a new project where we’ll aim to highlight research translation and commercialisation success stories. Get in contact with our Communications Manager, Martyn Pearce.

    Get in the picture: Are you following STA on Instagram? If you’re a member organisation using Insta as one of your communication channels, please follow us and we’ll follow you back!


  • 16 Sep 2021 1:40 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Congratulations to SSA members Dr Susanna Cramb and Dr Margarita Moreno-Betancur, who were amongst those awarded National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grants. The announcement was made on Tuesday by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Investigator Grants consolidate separate fellowship and research support into one grant scheme that provides the highest-performing researchers at all career stages with funding for their salary (if required) and a significant research support package. These grants provide the investigator with flexibility to pursue important new research directions as they arise and to form collaborations as needed, rather than being restricted to the scope of a specific research project.

    Dr Susanna Cramb of the Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Faculty of Health received funding for the research project PLACE (Prioritising Location-based Analysis and Consumer Engagement) for Change. This research uniquely incorporates both complex spatial analyses and lived consumer experience to identify priority areas and propose actionable solutions to help reduce health inequities for cancer, diabetes and injuries. Location plays a key role in Australia’s health inequities yet is usually ignored or aggregated to large regions. This hinders identifying appropriate, localised solutions.

    The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s (MCRI) Dr Margarita Moreno-Betancur’s project will tackle “big data” problems in longitudinal studies by developing new statistical methods for analysing pathways to disease. “Existing tools simply do not work in data-intensive studies such as those using large-scale biomarker datasets or real-time measurements in clinical care,” she said. “I’m aiming to address this critical gap through an integrated research program that will develop solutions, including dissemination to health researchers, as well as advanced capacity in the critical discipline of biostatistics.”

    Both recipients received funding support through SSA’s Fellowship Funding initiative. 

  • 16 Sep 2021 10:24 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Western Australia’s SSA August branch meeting took on something of a festive air in what looks set to become an annual event – a special joint meeting with the Australasian Region of the International Biometrics Society. The presentation by A/Prof Nicola Armstrong from Curtin University provided an interesting introduction to the topic of epigenetic clocks. The title of her talk was “Investigating Epigenetic Clocks”. These clocks estimate “biological” age from blood or other tissues by measuring modifications to the epigenome, such as levels of DNA methylation (the accumulation of methyl groups to DNA molecules), that occur as a direct consequence of ageing.

    Nicola described the basic modelling process that underpins the construction of such epigenetic clocks, being built via a penalized regression such as lasso or elastic net to identify a sparse set of predictive CpGs from the hundreds of thousands of potential methylation sites that are probed. With the supervised learning algorithms trained against chronological age, markers of biological age are derived from observed methylation levels at the final set of predictive sites. Measures of age acceleration/deceleration are then used to assess if underlying tissue ages faster or slower than expected.  For illustration, two popular clocks were applied to three different datasets of elderly cohorts, and results from studies assessing disease-induced tissue degeneration were also presented.   Several issues arising in application of these methods were discussed. These included the impact on performance of missing probes and pre-processing methods, variation arising from use of different platforms, and dependence of biological interpretation on the sample characteristics of the training data set used. A final word of caution regarding model interpretation noted there are inherent limitations in making personal predictions.

    The evening drew a good crowd, and the host of questions and lively discussion at its conclusion demonstrated that attendees found the talk interesting and engaging!

    Bethy McKinnon

  • 13 Sep 2021 1:59 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    On Tuesday 13th April, 2021, the Western Australian branch was pleased to have Professor Luke Prendergast to present at the monthly branch meeting. The title of his talk was “Meta-analysis: common traps and misconceptions”.

    Luke is Associate Head of School, School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and Director of the Statistics Consulting Platform at La Trobe University. He has worked on Meta-Analysis for the past 6 years in his career. He gave a talk on certain flaws and misconceptions in meta-analysis and provided recommendations on how these flaws could be overcome using examples from published research. He mentioned that some of the flaws may be due to researchers lacking adequate training in meta-analysis.

    Using the published examples, Luke identified problems and confusion from authors on whether to use random effects or fixed effects models in meta-analysis. He proposed that random effects models would be appropriate to use, which assumes heterogeneity between the studies. In addition, analysts should avoid allocating very large weights to a small number studies which may bias the results of the analysis and which may happen with fixed effect are used. Another problem relates to the interpretation of the meta-analysis results. Simple tests may lack power, especially when the number of studies is small. Authors should make it clear that the tests are for a mean effect and not effects overall. Prediction intervals which take into account the variance in the estimators and the variance associated with heterogeneity are one good example of how the magnitude of heterogeneity can be assessed. If there are wide prediction and confidence intervals in random effects models, this is to account for the heterogeneity among the studies.

    The key message was that “Heterogeneity in studies can be a good thing”. Heterogeneity may be very interesting and may lead to new research directions. He further responded to questions from the audience and recommended that researchers should look for additional information on studies included in the meta-analysis to explain the analysis and conduct sensitivity analysis as appropriate.

    Fadzai Chikwava

  • 10 Sep 2021 1:00 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    One of STA’s greatest strengths is the breadth and diversity of our membership. While other policy and advocacy organisations represent segments of this sector, the STA community’s unique role and reach enables us to bring together a combined STEM sector view. This breadth and our role as the key connector for the STEM sector has been powerfully in evidence in recent months.

    One of the issues of greatest concern across the sector is the continuing toll of this pandemic on jobs and job security. Next month, Science & Technology Australia and Professional Scientists Australia will release the 2021 results from our annual workplace survey of scientists’ working conditions. In member catch-ups, we’ve heard further examples of closures and cuts in STEM departments and disciplines. We are gathering these examples to highlight these issues further as part of our advocacy around the release of the survey. Please get in touch if you have further examples you can share - especially if they could be referenced in our media pitching for the survey release.

    We’re also supporting and coordinating with member organisations providing input to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure roadmap process. And we continue to engage over the Australian Research Council policies on pre-print citations. Yesterday the Audit Office also released its report on the Medical Research Future Fund. We were pleased to see the Department of Health agreed to implement all of the report’s recommendations. STA’s submission on further steps to improve MRFF transparency are here - we will continue to advocate for them.

    The diversity and breadth of our membership is also crucial in STA’s governance. Nominations have opened for election for three roles on our Board - covering Aquatic Sciences, Medical and Cognitive Sciences, and General Sciences. Nominations also open today for Executive Committee roles. We strongly encourage candidates from a wide diversity of demographics and disciplines to nominate. In particular, noting our commitments under our Reconciliation Action Plan, we especially encourage nominations from First Nations people in STEM. Here’s how to nominate.

    A final call for you to send superb candidates our way for STA’s influential Director of Policy and Engagement. Applications close on Monday at 10am AEST - so please encourage any truly outstanding people in your networks to apply.

    Until next time, 

    Misha Schubert 
    CEO, Science & Technology Australia 


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