SIAM News Blog

Academia and Industry Meet at Emory University’s SIAM Student Meeting

By Sofia Guzzetti

A major goal of SIAM student chapters is to motivate interest in applied mathematics and computational science. Chapters offer students opportunities to share ideas with peers and faculty members across a broad range of disciplines, and explore career opportunities in both industrial and academic environments.

With this in mind, the Emory University Chapter of SIAM (Atlanta, GA) hosted “Math & Industry: Happily Ever After” this past March with the dual aim of highlighting similarities and differences between industrial and academic environments and emphasizing the value of mathematics as a versatile and powerful tool for real-life applications.

Emory University’s SIAM student chapter event, “Math & Industry: Happily Ever After.” Image credit: Lior Horesh.
Invited speaker Lior Horesh shared his experience and expertise as both a mathematician in industry and a researcher in academia. As a research scientist in the Mathematical Sciences and Analytics Department at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center and an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Columbia University, Horesh straddles both worlds. As undergraduate attendee Claire Lin put it, “Dr. Horesh spoke from his own experiences in collaborative research settings, and addressed the essential concerns and challenges of working in interdisciplinary fields. For applied mathematicians nowadays, interactions between academia and industry are inevitable.”

Horesh began by focusing on the changing nature of modern research, namely that a single researcher can no longer tackle many of today’s challenges. In the past, examining the individual strength of a research group’s members quantified its effectiveness. However, as the breadth of projects extends beyond the capabilities of any single individual, the mentality for assessing capabilities is shifting towards collective intelligence: the shared intelligence resulting from the joint efforts, cooperation, and rivalries of numerous individuals. This mindset is exemplified, for instance, by the success of Wikipedia, Linux, CAPTCHA, and other open innovation policies that harness collective knowledge to great effect. With the recent advancements and growing interest in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), the collaborative scope can be even further extended, as stated by the MIT Sloan Center for Collective Intelligence, to investigate “how people and computers can be connected so that—collectively—they act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer has ever done before.” 

Horesh then gave examples of how both academia and industry approach this challenge. Industries like IBM provide a collaborative research environment that joins professionals from a broad range of scientific and technical fields. In such a context, the diversity of skills fosters interactions across disciplines that lead to innovative ideas. The broad scope of problems researchers face at industrial research institutions not only encourages continuous learning and professional evolution but also creates more robust, scalable research output, capable of surpassing the proof stage and delivering effective solutions. Thus, industrial research institutions offer a stimulating environment that increases the productivity of each individual and the quality of the group’s collective work.

Lior Horesh speaks to attendees of Emory University’s SIAM student chapter event, “Math & Industry: Happily Ever After.” Photo credit: Alessandro Barone.
However, diverse and high-impact research cannot abstain from academic influences and external collaboration. Horesh detailed academic interactions in industrial environments that exist in the form of teaching/mentoring and research guidance. Collaboration with academic peers is encouraged and often leads to joint publications, conference co-chairing, joint patents, and internship programs. For those from academia, interacting with the industrial realm is an opportunity to explore and draw useful insights and perspectives on current work. Indeed, these interactions allow both sides to critically reconsider conventions, practices, and prejudices, and also introduce new, interesting problems and challenges to solve.  

“I particularly liked the insight Lior gave about research (and its motivations) done in industry versus academia,” said Samy Wu, a graduate student in the applied mathematics program at Emory. “The talk was informal enough to engage a large audience and technical enough to convey important details.”

Horesh concluded by describing the ideal symbiosis of industrial and academic environments. The two sides share the universality of mathematical models, which encompass a large variety of real-world problems, and the promise of fruitful collaborations should persuade the mathematics and science communities to persevere through the challenges posed by linking industry and academia. Although physicists, computer scientists, business leaders, and mathematicians all speak fundamentally different languages as a byproduct of the environments in which they learn their craft, creating effective means of communication between these disparate worlds is paramount for both understanding complex problems outside the domain of expertise and attaining solutions to pressing real-world problems.  

“Dr. Horesh gave compelling arguments for the benefit of embracing work with individuals of diverse backgrounds, be it fields of study or industrial and academic affiliations,” said Clarissa Garvey, a graduate student in Emory’s computer science program. “I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and ensuing discussion.” 

Horesh encouraged the students to value and learn from the differences while embracing the difficulties of cross-disciplinary research. And above all, to dare, explore, and try, even if we stand chances to fail. As Einstein said, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

Sofia Guzzetti is a graduate student at Emory University in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. She is a member of the Emory University SIAM Student Chapter.  

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