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  • 29 Oct 2020 1:23 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Australia’s peak body for science and technology has today welcomed four new members to its Board of Directors, representing strong diversity and breadth in STEM disciplines.

    STA announced the following new appointees to its Board:

    • Agricultural and food sciences – Mr Michael Walker, Soil Science Australia Executive Officer
    • Biological sciences – Dr Tatiana Soares da Costa, Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (La Trobe University)
    • Physical sciences - Professor Jodie Bradby, Australian Institute of Physics (ANU)
    • Technological sciences - Dr Vipul Agarwal, Australasian Society for Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering, Royal Australian Chemical Institute (UNSW Sydney)

    STA President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie warmly welcomed the new members of the Board, which oversees governance and sets strategy for the organisation.

    “STA’s governance reflects our diverse membership, which collectively represents over 80,000 STEM professionals in Australia,” Associate Professor Brownlie said.

    “Our incoming Board is genuinely diverse across the STEM disciplines represented, as well as across gender and culture.”

    “Diversity of experiences and expertise is vital to strong Boards. It’s essential to robust decision-making, quality governance and visionary leadership for organisations.”

    “On behalf of the organisation, I warmly welcome our incoming Board members, both those who have been newly appointed, and those who have been re-elected.”

    Dr Tom Cresswell (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Australasia), Jas Chambers (Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society), Marina Costelloe (Institute of Australian Geographers), Professor Adrian Barnett (Statistical Society of Australia) and Professor Rachel Burton (Australian Society of Plant Scientists) return to the STA Board for another 2 year term each.

    STA’s new executive committee will be elected at the Annual General Meeting in late November.

    For interviews, please contact STA Communications Manager, Zoya Patel on 0406 249 786.

    More about our new Board members:

    Dr Vipul Agarwal

    Vipul is an NHMRC Fellow and Lecturer at the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney) who applies multidisciplinary research to develop bioimplants for spinal cord regeneration. He has strong experience working with industry and takes pride in advocating diversity and equity in science and scientific research.

    Professor Jodie Bradby

    Jodie is a physicist at the Australian National University with expertise in high pressure physics and the creation of new crystal phases of matter. Her group has made a type of silicon that can create a more efficient solar cell and a new form of diamond which is predicted to be even harder than regular diamond. Jodie is the Past-President of the Australian Institute of Physics and was a former AIP Women in Physics medallist. She has a strong interest in equity issues in STEM.

    Dr Tatiana Soares da Costa

    Tatiana is an early career biochemist and Group Leader at La Trobe University. She has won NHMRC Early Career and ARC DECRA fellowships to research antibiotics and herbicides to tackle the exponential rise in resistance. Tatiana was the founding President of La Trobe’s postdoctoral society. She is Editor of the Australian Biochemist magazine and the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Chair of Communications and Science Advocacy.

    Mr Michael Walker

    Michael is Executive Officer of Social Science Australia and has spent his career in horticultural and agricultural professional associations. He has extensive experience in NFP membership, events management, board governance and project management. Michael is a former Chair of the Horticultural Training Council and of Primary Skills Victoria.   


  • 29 Oct 2020 11:21 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Propensity score techniques in multiple treatments framework: the estimation of neighbourhood effect

    The speaker for the September branch meeting was Margherita Silan, who is a postdoctoral research fellow at Padua University. Margherita was the winner of the Italian Statistical Society annual award for best PhD in Applied statistics. Her research interests include causal inference in multiple treatment frameworks, composite indicators and partially ordered set theory. Margherita’s research involved the estimation of the neighbourhood effect using propensity score techniques in a framework with many treatments, with an application to two health outcomes in Turin.

    The neighbourhood effect is the independent causal effect of a neighbourhood on health and/or social outcomes. In order to compare the neighbourhood effect, it is important to make neighbourhoods comparable with respect to confounders. The Turin longitudinal study was used as the data source and outcomes considered were hospitalised fractures and incidence of depression or dementia. Neighbourhoods in Turin were represented as treatments, with at least 10 neighbourhoods included, depending on the partition methods.

    Magherita compared two methods to estimate the neighbourhood effect; inverse probability of treatment weighting (IPTW) for multiple treatments and logistic regression with dummy indicators for neighbourhoods as covariates in the model. Simulations were performed to compare the methods with fracture as the outcome. Performance of the two methods depended on the scenarios simulated.

    The neighbourhood effect was estimated for the outcome of dementia or depression using IPTW. An effect on mental health with respect to the mean was found, which was protective or harmful depending on the neighbourhood and gender. Based on her results, Magherita proposed a novel method: Matching on Poset based Average Rank for Multiple Treatments (MARMoT). The average rank summarises individual characteristics which are important for treatment allocation and is used as a tool to improve the balance of covariates between groups through matching. She described how to use the tool to achieve covariate balance and performed a simulation study to evaluate its performance. MARMoT improved covariate balance for 70 neighbouring zones in Turin and the average treatment effect in the treated changed considerably for many neighbourhoods.

    The talk concluded with a Q & A session, including suggestions for future collaboration and requests to share her code.

    By Lan Kelly

  • 8 Oct 2020 11:38 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    For the past couple of years Rob Salomone has been part of the University of New South Wales and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers as a post-doctoral fellow. At the latest meeting of the New South Wales branch, held on 30th September 2020, Rob gave a very entertaining talk about Monte Carlo - the statistical version.

    As is well-known, Monte Carlo is a casino city in the small Mediterranean country of Monaco. In the 1940s, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico, USA, working on atomic bomb research, borrowed the name for the idea of using sampling methods to approximate integrals. Monte Carlo methods are now a mainstay of statistical methodology. Rob described the Monte Carlo approach in general, and then recent from contributions him and his collaborators.

    A recurring theme throughout Rob's presentation was "integration by darts". This involved a graphic of an image plot of a bivariate function, with dart board concentric circles superposed - and these circles being contours of a bivariate density. Throwing darts matches draws from the density, which can be used in an obvious way to approximate the expectation of the function. However, if the bivariate function has important features well away from the bull's eye then integration by darts, i.e. Monte Carlo approximation, can perform poorly. Even in this two-dimension setting the challenges were made apparent. Connections with Bayesian inference were given.

    Getting into the second half of this very animated talk, Rob discussed remedies for Monte Carlo challenges such as multiplying by one and adding zero in very smart ways. One of several examples from Rob's research concernedrare events for the sum of dependent log-normal variates. He pointed to papers such as Botev, Salomone & Mackinlay (2019), Salomone, South, Drovandi and Kroese (2020) and Hodgkinson, Salomone & Roosta (2020). The last one got into Stein operators and Polish spaces - which, from appearances, involve some elegant mathematics in the name of improved Monte Carlo statistical methodology.

    Matt Wand
    University of Technology Sydney

  • 17 Sep 2020 3:14 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The annual 'MathsADDS' careers guide published by AMSI in collaboration with La Trobe University informs and inspires students with maths-based career successes, and insights into the breadth of professions and industry sectors that can be entered with an undergraduate mathematics-based degree. 

    The 23rd (2020-21) edition of MathsADDS is available to download here.

    Students often ask: “how will I use maths in the real world?”  MathsADDS provides students and careers advisors with an array of real job advertisements reinforcing the opportunities available. 

    Changing perceptions of the value of mathematics, this 23rd edition of MathsADDS highlights career possibilities in ten industry sectors.  It inspires students with profiles of practitioners, emphasising women excelling in careers requiring mathematical skills including a financial analyst, a civil engineer working on Melbourne’s West Gate Tunnel project, and a robotics engineer at the Department of Defence utilising unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). 

    Introduced again by maths teaching icon, Eddie Woo, MathsADDS includes endorsements by science luminaries including former Australian of the Year, Professor Michelle Simmons, the nation’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, and Australia’s ambassador for STEM, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith.   

    This year has presented significant challenges to universities in staging traditional Open Day activities.  Whether your insitution's event was on-campus or virtual, forwarding a copy of MathsADDS (either online using the link below, or by sending a soon to be available print copy) enables your recruitment team to follow-up with your prospective students. 

    Could I ask you to please forward this email to your Faculty's / University's recruitment management? 

    Print copies are in production and will be delivered to your School / Department.  Again (if possible) you may care to send copies to your Recruitment Office.  

    With best regards, 

    Clint Rodgers

    AMSI Marketing and Communications Manager


  • 17 Sep 2020 9:27 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Julie Simpson, Head of the Biostatistics Unit and the Melbourne Clinical and Translational Sciences Platform, has been awarded the 2020 Australasian Epidemiological Association mentoring award. The award was announced at the AGM on 16th September.

    In their speech to award Julie, nominees David Price and Karen Lamb said “Julie is truly an inspiration to us and to the many biostatisticians, epidemiologists and public health researchers that are fortunate enough to know her. Julie is a fantastic role model; she sets the example for the type of researcher that so many of us aspire to be. She is always focussed on promoting and supporting others around her by assisting with fellowship applications, nominating people for prizes, extending invitations to provide workshops and seminars to junior members of staff, and offering opportunities for more junior members of her team to be on projects with collaborators in her place. She is always available for a chat, whether it be for technical queries or to provide help managing a difficult collaborator. It is the selflessness that Julie offers in mentoring and supporting her team that really stands out. She will gladly provide assistance on applications or publications regardless of whether she is involved or will personally benefit from the outcome. Julie is so invested in being a good supervisor that the success of her peers and team is the reward. We know of no one more deserving of this award."

    Congratulations from all of us at SSA!

  • 15 Sep 2020 12:19 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)


    Higher education legislation must be amended to 
    avert cuts to STEM

    In its submission to a Senate inquiry on the higher education legislation, Science & Technology Australia has proposed key amendments to avert damaging cuts in funding for STEM degrees.

    In June, the Australian Government announced its Job-Ready Graduates plan. It proposes to make major changes to how university education is funded.

    The Government has said it wants to see more graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses – and wants more humanities students to acquire STEM literacy and skills – because these are areas where Australia expects strong future jobs growth.

    STA strongly supports this goal - however, this legislation as drafted would cut the level of funding for universities to teach students in STEM courses by $690 million in 2021 alone.

    STA President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie said it was important for people to understand the magnitude of the proposed cut to STEM degree funding in the legislation as currently drafted.

    “While the Government’s stated goal is to boost STEM places, this proposed legislation would actually cut base funding by 17% for maths degrees, 16% for science and engineering degrees, and 29% for environmental sciences.”

    “Our members in STEM faculties have analysed this very carefully and concluded the practical effect of the proposed cuts would actually limit the STEM places universities can afford to offer - which is the opposite of Education Minister Dan Tehan’s stated intention.”

    “These cuts would also lower base funding into STEM faculties which has supported staff to teach but also to do some research and supervise training of our next generation researchers.”

    “That’s especially important in crucial STEM fields such as mining, engineering, agricultural science and advanced manufacturing - vital fields to build greater sovereign capability for Australia.” 

    “As a result, we urge the Senate to ask the Government to avert the proposed cuts in the legislation to STEM as a condition of Senate support to pass the Bill.”

    “If the Senate is unable to secure amendments by the Government or from a Senate majority to keep the current resourcing level for STEM, it would be better if the legislation did not proceed.”
     
    As a constructive way to avert the proposed cuts to STEM, STA recommends the Senate add a “science loading” clause to the legislation to ensure funding for STEM education does not fall.

    “Our proposed amendment would essentially ensure base funding for STEM degrees remains the same – meaning universities don’t reduce the number of places they can offer in STEM courses.”

    “The proposed cuts to STEM are being proposed when universities are reeling from the colossal economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic including the loss of international student income.”

    STA members have also highlighted cautions, caveats and gaps in the assumptions on which the Deloitte report – which was used to design the package – sought to model the costs of teaching.

    Australian Council of Deans of Science President Professor Brian Yates said: “The strong view of the Deans of Science is that the legislation under consideration is extremely damaging to STEM and should not be passed as is.”

    “Given the funding incentives in the legislation and the proposed fall in STEM resourcing, universities are likely to enrol more students in the better funded disciplines and fewer in STEM.”

    Australian Council of Engineering Deans President Professor John Wilson said: “We think the funding levels in the legislation could see smaller and regional universities struggle to fund the costs of teaching engineering courses.”

    “It would also make it hard to deliver the ‘heavy engineering’ disciplines – which involve expensive large-scale facilities and infrastructure – such as mining engineering, petro-chemical engineering, electrical engineering, heavy mechanical engineering and advanced manufacturing.”  

    Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors President Professor Dianne Gleeson said: “The cuts to STEM education are largest of all in the environmental sciences - with a 29% funding cut proposed in this legislation.”

    “That is likely to see a sharp drop in places in courses that equip students for careers in bushfire prevention, recovery and resilience; water management in our arid continent; helping farmers with soil improvement and weed eradication; and managing our unique State and National Parks.”

    Professor Brownlie said: “We appreciate the complexity of this legislation. STEM degrees feature across the proposed new funding clusters in a way that makes it hard to adjust the references to cluster funding rates in the legislation cleanly and simply.”

    “We have therefore proposed a way forward that would ultimately align with the Government’s objectives while protecting STEM faculties from cuts to current funding.”

    “We also seek an amendment to the legislation to uncap places for Indigenous students from all parts of Australia, not just regional and remote communities. Extending that access would help the Government to meet its own Close the Gap targets in education and employment.” 

    STA’s full submission is available here. For interviews, please contact STA Communications Manager, Zoya Patel on 0406 249 786.


  • 15 Sep 2020 10:03 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The speaker for the August meeting with the Western Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia and the International Biometrics Society Australasian Region was Dr Smaila Sanni. Currently, Dr. Sanni works at SAGI-West as a biometrician, and has been in that role since October 2019. His talk discussed the research that Dr. Sanni conducted with the Applied and Industrial Mathematics group from the University of New South Wales for a chapter in the book 'Advances in Forest Fire Research 2018' (Jovanoski et al., 2018). The work considered methods in stochastic differential equations to describe the rate of spread (ROS) of fire. Interest is in how the fire develops within the initial minutes of a fire starting. The method used in this work can be applied to numerous fields, including cellular dynamics, animal genetics, disease spread in crops, and yield response to changes in growth factors.

    The accelerated phase of fire ROS is incredibly important to know as it can inform first responders of how rapidly a fire may develop, and what resources they will therefore need to handle that situation. While undoubtedly an important topic, the majority of studies in wildland fire science have been dedicated to the development of models after its initial acceleration phase, when the fire has reached a quasi- equilibrium rate of spread. Comparatively little attention has been given to the development of models that specifically account for the growth phase of a fire's development.

    The findings put forward by Dr. Sanni and his research team presented interesting relationships in fire dynamics. One key finding was that the probability that the fire would self-extinguish was found to be governed by the ratio between the equilibrium fire ROS and the variability of the fire ROS. Another notable outcome was that the confidence interval for the stochastic differential equation model used in the research was found to be narrower than that used in nonlinear regression models. This means that the stochastic model gives a higher level of precision for its predictions than that found for the nonlinear regression model. Finally, the stochastic model is also advantageous as it provides a way to generate statistics such as the mean, variance, containment probability and the distribution of fire ROS.

    As mentioned above, the use of stochastic differential equations can be applied to other fields, and Dr. Sanni sees potential for the use of the modelling in areas such as crop disease spread which undoubtedly has stochastic elements. He hopes that this can be integrated into his work done at SAGI-West to improve their current outcomes.

    Due to the nature of the online talk, no dinner was planned afterwards but one was offered for Dr. Sanni in the future.

    Jordan Brown

    References

    Jovanoski, Z., J. J. Sharples, A. M. Gill, S. Watt, H. S. Sidhu, I. N. Towers, and S. Sanni. 2018. "Modelling the rate of spread of fire: An SDE approach." In  Advances in Forest Fire Research 2018 VIEGAS, D. X., 555-565: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra.


  • 14 Sep 2020 10:14 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Last week we lodged STA’s submission to the Senate inquiry on the higher education legislation. As soon as the committee publishes it, we will be able to circulate it. You can read all the submissions as they are published on the committee’s website

    We share the Government’s goal of having more STEM graduates – however the proposed legislation would cut resourcing for STEM degrees. We have done some careful thinking about constructive ways in which the Senate could amend the legislation to avert the proposed cuts to STEM. It has been so important to be able to hear from many of you about the likely impact of the proposed legislation as we crafted this important piece of work. Having the collective voice and information conduit of STA becomes even more valuable at times like this. Our thanks to each of you who helped with insights and expertise. 

    At the end of this month, we will host the next webinar in our skills series. This one is on how STEM organisations can continue their equity, diversity and inclusion work amid COVID-19. Our presenters are STA Vice-President Tanya Ha and Corey Tutt from Deadly Science. You can register here: Diverse By Design: tips and resources to enhance equity in STEM (Webinar).

    A final call as well today for Victorian applicants for Superstars of STEM. Amid the lockdown in Victoria, we extended the deadline in that state until 5pm today. If you know a woman in STEM in Victoria who is a potential Superstar, please encourage them to apply.

    As always, we’re conscious of the continued pressure of COVID-19 on the sector. Last week the nation marked R U OK Day, and STA is here to support you. Please always feel free to be in contact if there are additional ways in which we can help support you and your members. 

    Until next time, 

    Misha Schubert 
    CEO, Science & Technology Australia 

    NEW REPORTS AND POLICY CHANGES OF INTEREST TO STA MEMBERS 


  • 10 Sep 2020 3:33 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    I know it continues to be a very hectic time for us all. Thank you for the important work each of you are doing across our STEM sector. 
     
    Among the many policy issues we are all currently navigating, helping policymakers to understand the importance of international research collaborations is a continuing priority. 
     
    We are therefore looking to collect some great examples and case studies to highlight global research collaborations between Australian STEM researchers and counterparts abroad.
     
    We are looking for the following information:

    • What (types of) research are you and your members currently collaborating on with international partners?
    • What research and products/services/insights/jobs have come from your or your members international collaborations (links or pdfs to papers and websites would be excellent)?
    • What countries are your research partners in?
    • Are you collaborating with international businesses or industry and, if so, who and how?
    We are looking for as much specificity in examples as possible – although we understand that some research might be commercial in confidence. 
     
    STA intends to use this research as public case studies however if requested we will not include your name or research institution. 
     
    We would like to gather this information before September 21. If you could email it to our Policy Manager Peter Derbyshire – peter.derbyshire@sta.org.au – we would be most grateful.
     
    Many thanks in advance for your engagement as always.
     
    All the very best,
     
    Misha

    Misha Schubert
    Chief Executive Office
    r
    P: 02 6257 2891 M: 0421 612 351
    PO Box 259, Canberra City, ACT 2601
    E:  misha.schubert@sta.org.au


  • 8 Sep 2020 11:33 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Dear AMSI members and friends,

    The 'Securing Australia’s Mathematical Workforce' (SAMW) program is a significant initiative by AMSI and the Australian Government through our partners in the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.  

    Since 2012, SAMW funding has further enabled AMSI to grow the nation’s future public and private-sector workforce with advanced skills in the mathematical sciences, whilst also providing opportunities for increasing participation by female and Indigenous students.  The overarching objective is to contribute to the preparation of a world-class mathematical sciences workforce in Australia.

    I am delighted to inform you that following an independent review of the SAMW program (2016-20) and the AMSI Vacation Schools and Scholarships Grant program (2012–16), funding has been secured for another 12 months, continuing the success of our highly important partnership with the Department.  

    This enables valuable events including BioInfoSummer 2020, Vacation Research Scholarships 2020-21, Summer School 2021, our Scientific Workshop Program and Winter School 2021 to be sustained.

    I would like to recognise and acknowledge the collective contribution of our Deputy Director, Professor Mat Simpson, and the members of the working committee he chaired, together with our wonderful RHED team of Angela Coughlin, Anna Muscara and Francesca Hoban Ryan -- and of our former program manager, Chloe Pearse -- to successfully securing this vital funding enabling this great work by AMSI to continue.  

    Congratulations and thank you!

    Asha Rao

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