SIAM News Blog

Liverpool Early Career Researchers Conference 2019: Data Science, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence

By Christopher Overton, Marianne Scott, James Wright, Michael Roberts, and Graham Reeve

The University of Liverpool SIAM-IMA Student Chapter, together with the Liverpool Centre for Mathematics in Healthcare and Liverpool Hope University, recently launched its annual conference series with the inaugural Liverpool Early Career Researchers Conference. The theme of this conference—which took place in early April—was data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. The meeting united distinguished researchers with both academic and industrial backgrounds from all aspects of these fields to discuss a plethora of topics. In addition to hosting invited speakers, we provided a platform for early-career researchers (Ph.D. students and postdocs) to present their research via parallel sessions and posters. There were 10 contributed talks, 10 posters, 12 plenary talks, an interactive session organised by the Royal Statistical Society, an unconference session during which attendees could dictate discussion, and a careers talk hosted by Erica Tyson and Richard Pinch at the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA).

Over 60 participants from a wide range of locations—including Glasgow, Swansea, Exeter, and India—attended the conference. Attendees hailed from a range of disciplines, such as mathematics, physics, engineering, finance, biostatistics, and the life sciences. Yet they were all connected by their interest in data science — specifically the development or application of new techniques. With the rise in computational power and available volume of data, researchers from all areas are becoming fascinated by existing data science techniques and the new avenues of research that these techniques can uncover. By bringing together early-career researchers from multiple fields, we hoped to encourage discussion of the different available techniques and demonstrate how collaboration can further the understanding and application of these methods.

Kurt Langfeld (University of Liverpool) opened the conference with a brilliant introduction to the future of mathematics in data science and computing. David Hughes (University of Liverpool) followed this presentation with a talk on the use of variational models for longitudinal data. Andy Jones (University of Liverpool) then spoke about the research he does within Liverpool’s Computational Biology Facility and opportunities for early-career researchers. Given the huge volumes of accessible data, how do we avoid misusing our power? Maria Ferrario (University of Lancaster) gave a captivating talk on “measuring” human values in software development. To close the first day, Sarah Nevitt, Laura Bonnett, and Maria Sudell (members of the Merseyside branch of the Royal Statistical Society) organised a great interactive session that allowed attendees to network while discussing interesting statistical problems.

The second day featured six plenary talks from Simon Maskell (University of Liverpool), Ed Pyzer-Knapp (IBM Research), Xiaowei Huang (University of Liverpool), Lee Devlin (University of Liverpool), Mara Kozic (University of Liverpool), and Bart Willigers (AstraZeneca). We held an “unconference” session in the middle of the day to break up the talks. The unconference provided a platform for attendees to take control of the conversation by breaking off into smaller groups to discuss their common interests. This session was a great success and facilitated learning and interaction between highly varied researchers.

We also hosted a careers session with representatives from the IMA that offered important insight into the many potential career paths that proceed from the Ph.D./postdoctoral level. This was a relaxed session that allowed attendees to interact with both Tyson and Pinch of the IMA and ask pressing questions.

Later that evening, we organised a poster and wine session. This informal atmosphere provided a great platform for discussion of the high-quality posters on display by early-career researchers from all over the U.K. Latifah Abduh (Durham University) won the best poster prize for her research on “Face Liveness Detection in Videos,” which utilised machine learning techniques to protect facial recognition software from spoofing attacks. A thoroughly enjoyable conference dinner followed this session.

Nick Higham (SIAM Past President, University of Manchester) opened the conference’s final day with a fascinating talk on the exploitation of low-precision arithmetic to improve scientific computing. Richard Pinch (IMA Vice President) then offered interesting insight into the future of computing and the ways in which mathematics can help solve both computational challenges and mathematical challenges that are arising from computing.

Two brilliant parallel sessions on healthcare applications of data science and techniques in data science followed the morning presentations. The wide range of high-quality research was amazing to experience and prompted lots of audience interaction. The outstanding quality of all talks made voting very tough, and in the healthcare applications session a joint prize for best talk was awarded to Gareth Jones (Swansea University) and Stevie Shoop-Worrall (University of Manchester). Bernadette Stolz (University of Oxford) received the best talk prize in the session on data science techniques. Hirbod Assa (University of Liverpool) rounded off the conference with insight into the role of machine learning in the banking and insurance industries. It was intriguing to learn how these large industries are beginning to experiment with machine learning.

The number of fields to which researchers are currently applying these data science and machine learning techniques is enormous, and it is fascinating to see how they are experimenting with potential applications. However, we also witnessed the importance of ensuring that the techniques are safe and trustworthy and can adhere to set values — either defined by our stakeholders or on a wider “human” level. We thoroughly enjoyed hosting this event and look forward to seeing how all the research progresses in years to come.

Acknowledgments: The Liverpool Early Career Researchers Conference was generously supported by SIAM and the IMA. The organising committee also secured funding from the Royal Statistical Society, the Liverpool Centre for Mathematics in Healthcare, and an RCMM grant from the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Hope University.

Chris Overton is a Ph.D. student at the University of Liverpool working with Kieran Sharkey on the mathematics of evolution and epidemiology. He is current president of the University of Liverpool SIAM-IMA Student Chapter and a member of the EPSRC Liverpool Centre for Mathematics in Healthcare, where he applies theoretical research ideas to the evolution of anti-microbial resistance. Marianne Scott is a Ph.D. student in the EPSRC Liverpool Centre for Mathematics in Healthcare, working on cell motility with Rachel Bearon. She is on the committee for the RSS Merseyside Local Branch for 2019. James Wright is a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering and electronics at the University of Liverpool, working with Simon Maskell on enhancing statistical methodologies for the detection of suspicious maritime behaviour. He is also the conference leader designate for the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications' Early Career Mathematicians' Committee. Mike Roberts completed his Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Liverpool in 2019, working with Ke Chen on mathematical modelling for image segmentation. He accepted a postdoctoral position with the University of Cambridge and the Royal Papworth Hospital, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at AstraZeneca. His work focuses on the application of radiomics analysis to CT scans acquired in clinical trials of AstraZeneca medicines in lung cancer. Graham Reeve completed his Ph.D. at the University of Liverpool in 2012, working with Vladimir Zakalyukin in singularity theory. He was then a postdoctoral researcher at the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil) from 2012-2014, and is currently a lecturer in mathematics at Liverpool Hope University.

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