From the Bayesian Statistics Section – Mark Girolami in Australia

In November 2017 Professor Mark Girolami, a world leader in Computational Bayesian Statistics from Imperial College London and the University of Warwick, came to visit Australia.  Mark’s trip was funded by SSA, ACEMS (Australian Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers) and Distinguished Professor Kerrie Mengersen.

Mark visited several universities in Australia, spreading the word about his recent work in probabilistic numerics, control functionals and advanced Bayesian modelling and computation.   Mark’s trip presented an excellent opportunity for Australian statisticians to gain knowledge and explore exciting new collaborations.

Mark’s visit was well received across the country:  “Mark’s visit was a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time learning from and collaborating with a world class statistician. Australia should do this kind of thing more often!” (Professor Scott Sisson),  and “Great visit by Mark. Thanks heaps for arranging.” (Professor Robert Kohn).  Mark also delivered a workshop in Perth as the Frank Hansford-Miller visitor organised by Dr Alethea Rea (President of the SSA WA branch at the time).  Alethea reported very positive feedback: “Overall his visit was well received with 40 attendees at his one-day workshop and the seminar were also excellent. Some of our members are still exploring options to collaborate with him further after one on one discussions with Mark during his visit.”

I will leave you with Mark’s take on the visit:

I had never been to Australia before being invited to visit by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS). Dr Chris Drovandi was the main individual who expertly pulled everything together and initiated the development of a comprehensive visit which was supported by ACEMS, the SSA Bayesian and WA Sections and the indomitable Prof. Kerrie Mengerson from QUT.

My visit started out at the Bayes on the Beach meeting held in Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. It was my first time at Bayes on the Beach and what a fantastic meeting it was. There is a relaxed and friendly atmosphere to this meeting which had a number of really good innovations that I plan to steal and export back to the UK. The afternoon sessions where professors, PhDs and postdocs got together to work on problems that had been assigned to them was great fun and a super learning experience for all of us. The final presentation at the end of our proposed solutions was enjoyable and quite inspiring for all. I spoke twice at the meeting after which it was time to go to Brisbane and visit the Statistics group at QUT.

The city of Brisbane is very relevant to me as obviously it takes its name from Sir Thomas Brisbane the governor of New South Wales. Thomas Brisbane came from the town of Largs on the West coast of Scotland which is where I come from, so it was good to see some history that connected my home town with this exotic city on the other hemisphere.

I visited QUT and gave a talk to the many PhDs and postdocs in Prof. Mengersen’s lively and enthusiastic group. I had plenty of time to talk and discuss with them all and it looks that given shared research interests some collaborations with Dr Chris Drovandi and his growing team will develop. The food in Brisbane was fantastic and it was my first introduction to Barramundi, oh that was great.

From Brisbane I travelled to Adelaide where I spoke in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, School of Mathematical Sciences at The University of Adelaide. My host, Professor Joshua Ross, -it turned out- is a collaborator of one of my collaborators, one degree of separation !. The visit was short but we had a great time meeting new friends and colleagues. The one thing I had to do before leaving Adelaide was to visit St Peters Cathedral and see where the ashes of Sir R.A.Fisher lie.

Onto Melbourne from Adelaide where I visited Monash University and the University of Melbourne. At Melbourne Airport whilst waiting for our luggage I noticed Barry Humphries. My wife then went straight up to him and starting chatting! At Monash I was able to catch up with Professor Tianhai Tan who I knew from our days together at the University of Glasgow, as well as Tiangang Cui who I previously met when he was at MIT. We both share interests in the interface of statistical science and numerical analysis. One thing that stopped me in my tracks was a young man in the seminar who had Bayes’ formula tattooed on his arm, that had to be photographed and put up onto Facebook. At Melbourne University I spent time in the Peter Hall building and met with one of my friends and former colleagues from London, Professor David Balding. The food in Melbourne was fantastic, some more Barramundi please.

From Melbourne we travelled onto Sydney and visited UNSW and UTS. I really enjoyed being a tourist in Sydney. How could you not with all it has to offer? Our tour of the Sydney Opera House was conducted by a Scotsman. At UNSW I gave a series of lectures organised by the irrepressible Professor Robert Kohn and this was really enjoyable for me. The reason for this is that one of the visiting professors in the department is a mathematician from the University of Bath who attended all of my lectures and he had actually been on the interview panel for my current research fellowship. I had given a series of lectures on the relevance of geometric principles in stochastic simulations for statistical (Bayesian) inference and we had a few really great technical discussions. I had a super time at UNSW with a number of research ideas and possible collaborations developing with Professor Sott Sisson and Professor Kohn.

After UNSW I visited UTS and was hosted by Professor Matt Wand. I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend from way back who had just recently moved from England to Sydney to take up a chair in Computer Science at UTS. A collaboration has now been established between the Alan Turing Institute in the UK where I am one of the directors and with the Centre for Translational Data Science at the University of Sydney which is led by Professor Sally Cripps. We already have projects being developed in Uncertainty Quantification in Geoscience, Environmental Air Quality and Criminology. This is a bilateral collaborative framework which would not have happened without the visit. And what about the food? It was fantastic. The cycling was awesome in and around Sydney as well.

From Sydney we then took the long flight to Perth in Western Australia where I visited the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Western Australia. I am grateful for the support of the SSA WA branch Frank Hansford-Miller fellowship for this part of the trip. I gave a series of seminars and lectures and had plenty of time to meet a number of new collaborators. In particular Dr Ed Cripps who introduced me to the awesome ARC Research Hub for Offshore Floating Facilities. There they are grappling with the quantification of uncertainty in models of offshore structures and how data can be assimilated into these mathematical and computational models. It was fantastic to talk with Ed, the team of engineers from the Hub as well as Professor Melinda Hodkiewicz. As of now the research programme I lead at the Alan Turing Institute and the UWA Hub have a strategic collaboration agreement and some actual research projects underway. At the moment we are studying how to quantify uncertainty in mathematical models of Solitons and their impact on offshore structures. We have shared researchers in the UK and Western Australia who will make visits to and from the UK and Australia and we see this developing over the coming months and years.

We had to do a vineyard tour during our time in Perth… actually, several. They were fantastic fun.

Overall it was a hugely productive visit to Australia for me in terms of establishing new and exciting collaborations. We found the Australians we met to be warm, friendly and funny, we now have many new friends and collaborators. We thoroughly enjoyed every visit. I can’t wait to come back. Any downsides to the visit? None. Oh… apart from the weather. A wee peeley wally Scotsman finds summer temperatures in Australia tough to handle!

Christopher Drovandi


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