Student perspectives: Compass Conference 2022

A post by Dominic Broadbent and Dom Owens, PhD students on the Compass CDT, and Compass conference co-organisers.

Introduction

September saw the first annual Compass Conference, hosted in the newly refurbished Fry Building, home to the School of Mathematics. The conference was a fantastic opportunity for PhD students across Compass to showcase their research, meet with industrial partners and to celebrate their achievements. The event also welcomed the new cohort of PhD students, as well as prospective PhD students taking part in the Access to Data Science programme.

Compass students mingle with other attendees

Lightning talks and poster session

The day started with a series of 3-minute fast-paced lightning talks, where students pitched their research to attendees to come and visit them at the following poster session. More than 20 posters were on display, capturing the wide range of topics Compass students currently work on. The session gave everyone a chance to dive into the finer details and see results visualised in impressive and inventive ways. For academic and industry attendees, this also served as a forum to propose potential applications and collaborations.

The lightning talks were a great exercise in boiling down your work into just the essentials, knowing you only have a short time to try attract the audience’s attention and interest. While the poster session provided an opportunity to follow up on that interest with details and results, as well as the chance to to see what exactly everyone else in the office is working on!

Conference attendees at the poster session

Research talks

After lunch, we saw 6 in-depth talks from students on late-stage or published research ideas, starting with Ettore Fincato’s work “Spectral analysis of the Gibbs sampler with the concept of conductance” and ending with Ed Davis’ “Universal Dynamic Network Embedding – How to Comprehend Changes in 20,000 Dimensions”. Our speakers took advantage of the longer format to give detailed, motivated presentations, concentrating on the most interesting mathematical details while still making sure their talks were accessible for everyone in the audience. Having a chaired discussion after each talk allowed for audience participation and gave more focus to the most interesting and challenging details. The format is intended to be similar to the talks students give at external conferences, giving the speakers a chance to perfect their technique in front of friendly faces.

Michael Whitehouse gives his research talk to conference attendees

Special guest lecture

To cap off a successful event, the attendees moved to the great hall of the Wills Memorial Building which opened its doors to the public for a special guest lecture from John Burn-Murdoch, the Chief Data Officer at the Financial Times. John is a pioneering data journalist whose work came to particular prominence when he led the FT’s coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic. He also writes a weekly column, Data Points, where he leverages the power of data visualisation done well to inform his readers on topics such as economics, sport and health.

The lecture, titled Making charts that make an impact, was an exploration of what makes data visualisation effective as a means of communication, drawing on the latest scientific research and his experience of visualising the pandemic. It provided an excellent opportunity to learn how we can carefully present data to have the largest impact, and get across the ideas we want. Certainly, it sparked a discussion into the nature of data visualisation in mathematical research, what we can learn from the latest advances in data journalism, and when it may and may not be appropriate to tell a story.

John Burn-Murdoch gives his special guest lecture

Thoughts from students

We surveyed the Compass students afterwards looking for feedback on their experiences. Here are a select few comments:

“Giving a talk on my work in an encouraging environment, with support from my friends and advisers, as well as a wide range of attendees with diverse technical knowledge, was an invaluable experience for me.”

“It’s really useful to learn how to communicate your research to people in industry. They tend to be less concerned with detail, and more concerned with the big idea, and how it can be used in practice. I’m looking forward to continuing some of the conversations I started while at the conference and seeing where they lead.”

“I had a very rewarding time at the Compass conference, the great mix of people, ideas, and catering made it so fun and interesting. Really looking forward to next year’s!”

“I found John’s talk fascinating, it was very interesting to peek behind the curtain and gain insight into the way a data journalist makes decisions on how to present data most effectively, from the minutiae to the big picture.”

 

Compass Conference 2022

Our first Compass Conference was held on Tuesday 13th September 2022, hosted in the newly refurbished Fry Building, home to the School of Mathematics.

Fry Building
The Fry Building and Voronoi installation

The conference was a celebratory showcase of the achievements of our students, supervisory teams, and collaborations with industrial partners. Attendees were invited from a diverse range of organisations outside of academia as well as academic colleagues from across the University of Bristol.

Programme

Lightning talks: 3 min presentations from Compass PhD students

  • Mauro Camara Escudero: Approximate Manifold Sampling
  • Doug Corbin: Partitioned Polynomial Thompson Sampling for Contextual Multi-Armed Bandits.
  • Dom Owens: FNETS: An R Package for Network Analysis and Forecasting of High-Dimensional Time Series with Factor-Adjusted Vector Autoregressive Models
  • Jake Spiteri: A non-parametric method for state-space models
  • Daniel Williams: Kernelised Stein Discrepancies for Truncated Probability Density Estimation
  • Conor Crilly: Efficient Emulation of a Radionuclide Transport Model
  • Annie Gray: Discovering latent topology and geometry in data: a law of large dimension
  • Conor Newton: Mutli-Agent Multi-Armed Bandits
  • Jack Simons: Variational Likelihood-Free Gradient Descent
  • Anthony Stephenson: Provably Reliable Large-Scale Sampling from Gaussian Processes
  • Dan Ward: Robust Neural Posterior Estimation
  • Shannon Williams: Sampling Schemes for Volcanic Ash Dispersion Hazard Assessment
  • Dominic Broadbent: Bayesian Coresets Versus the Laplace Approximation
  • Emerald Dilworth: Using Web Data and Network Embedding to Detect Spatial Relationships
  • Ettore Fincato: Markov state modelling and Gibbs sampling
  • Josh Givens: DRE and NP Classification with Missing Data
  • Ben Griffiths: Faster Model Fitting for Quantile Additive Models
  • Tennessee Hickling: Flexible Tails for Normalising Flows
  • Daniel Milner: When Does Market Access Improve Smallholder Nutrition? A Multilevel Analysis
  • Edward Milsom: Deep Kernel Machines

Research talks

  • Ed DavisUniversal Dynamic Network Embedding – How to Comprehend Changes in 20,000 Dimensions
  • Ettore FincatoSpectral analysis of the Gibbs sampler with the concept of conductance
  • Alexander Modell – Network community detection under degree heterogeneity: spectral clustering with the random walk Laplacian
  • Hannah SansfordImplications of sparsity and high triangle density for graph representation learning
  • Michael WhitehouseConsistent and fast inference in compartmental models of epidemics via Poisson Approximate Likelihoods
  • Alessio ZakariaYour Favourite Optimizer may not Converge: Click here to see more

Special guest lecture

John Burn-Murdoch, Chief Data Reporter at the Financial Times.

Making charts that make an impact: An exploration of what makes data visualisation effective as a means of communication, drawing on the latest scientific research, plus John’s experiences from visualising the pandemic.

Attendees

Attendees included academics associated with Compass from across the University of Bristol. Our external attendees were invited from the following partner organisations.

Adarga
Advai
Alan Turing Institute
Allianz Personal
AWE
British Telecom
CheckRisk LLP
COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group
Financial Times
GSK
Improbable
Infinitesima
International Livestock Research Institute
LV= General Insurance
Met Office
NVIDIA
TGE Data Science
Trilateral Research
UK Health Security Agency

Compass student publishes article in Frontiers

Compass student Dan Milner and his academic supervisors have published an article in Frontiers, one of the most cited and largest research publishers in the world. Dan’s work is funded in collaboration with ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute).

Market access and dietary diversity: A spatially explicit multi-level analysis in Southern and Western Kenya.

DataScience@work seminars 2022 announced

We are delighted to announce the confirmed DataScience@work seminars for 2022. Huge thanks to our invited speakers who will be joining us in person and online over the coming months!

The Compass DataScience@work seminar invites speakers from industry, government and third-sector to provide our PhD students with their perspective on the realities of being a data scientist in industry: from the methods and techniques they use to build applications, to working as part of a wider organisation, and how to build a career in their sector.

Find out more on our DataScience@work seminar here.

Compass news round-up 2021

As we start 2022, we look back at our Compass achievements over 2021…

Invited speakers and seminars

Over the course of the year we invited seminar speakers Ingmar Schuster on kernel methods, Nicolas Chopin offered a two-part lecture on sequential Monte Carlo samplers, Ioannis Kosmidis on reducing bias in estimation and a special two-part lecture from Barnett Award winning Jonty Rougier on Wilcoxon’s Two Sample Test.

Compass student launches PAI-Link

In May, Compass PhD student, Mauro Camara Escudero, set up PAI-Link: a nation-wide AI postgraduate seminar series.

Last year also saw the launch of our DataScience@work seminar series, at which we had 5 external organisations speak (Adarga, CheckRisk, Shell, IBM Research and Improbable) and the British Geological Survey opened this academic year’s seminar series with a talk from alumna Dr Kathryn Leeming.

Training and internships

We ran training sessions on themes such as interdisciplinary research, responsible innovation and a Hackathon run with Compass partners LV= General Insurance, which is recounted by Doug Corbin in his blog post. Compass held its first Science Focus Lab on multi-omics data and cancer treatment with colleagues from Bristol Integrative Epidemiology unit.

Five Compass students were recruited to internships with organisations such as Microsoft Research, Adarga, CheckRisk, Afiniti and Shell.

Outreach

The Student Perspectives blog series started up last year with Three Days in the Life of a Silicon Valley Start-up. This student-authored series explored topics such as air pollution in Bristol,  the different

Michael Whitehouse in Sky News article

approaches of frequentists and Bayesians, and how to generalise kernel methods to probability distributions.

Michael Whitehouse contributed to a Sky News report on the potential impact of the pandemic on the Tokyo Olympics by modelling the rise of COVID-19 cases in Japan.

Access to Data Science

Compass ran its first Access to Data Science event – an immersive experience for prospective PhD students which aimed to increase diversity amongst data science researchers by encouraging participants such as women and members of the LGBTQ+ and BAME communities to join us.

Research and studentships

Our second cohort of students selected their mini-projects (a precursor to their PhD research) and our third cohort of students joined the Compass programme in September 2021.

Compass students Sept21
Compass Cohort 3 students

Annie Gray presented her paper ‘Matrix factorisation and the interpretation of geodesic distance’ at NeurIPS 2021. Conor Newton gave a talk at a workshop in conjunction with ACM Sigmetrics 2021 and he and Dom Owens won the poster session of the Fry Statistics Conference.  Jack Simons paper ‘Variational Likelihood-Free Gradient Descent’ was accepted at AABI 2022. Alex Modell’s paper ‘A Graph Embedding Approach to User Behavior Anomaly Detection’ was accepted to IEEE Big Data Conference 2021. Danny Williams and supervisor Song Liu were awarded an EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account for their project in collaboration with Adarga.

We also created links with new industrial partners – AstraZeneca, ILRI and EDF – who are each sponsoring Compass PhD projects for the following students: Harry Tata, Dan Milner, and Ben Griffiths and Euan Enticott.

 

Student Perspectives: Gaussian Process Emulation

A post by Conor Crilly, PhD student on the Compass programme.

Introduction

This project investigates uncertainty quantification methods for expensive computer experiments. It is supervised by Oliver Johnson of the University of Bristol, and is partially funded by AWE.

Outline

Physical systems and experiments are commonly represented, albeit approximately, using mathematical models implemented via computer code. This code, referred to as a simulator, often cannot be expressed in closed form, and is treated as a ‘black-box’. Such simulators arise in a range of application domains, for example engineering, climate science and medicine. Ultimately, we are interested in using simulators to aid some decision making process. However, for decisions made using the simulator to be credible, it is necessary to understand and quantify different sources of uncertainty induced by using the simulator. Running the simulator for a range of input combinations is what we call a computer experiment [1]. As the simulators of interest are expensive, the available data is usually scarce. Emulation is the process of using a statistical model (an emulator) to approximate our computer code and provide an estimate of the associated uncertainty.

Intuitively, an emulator must possess two fundamental properties

  • It must be cheap, relative to the code
  • It must provide an estimate of the uncertainty in its output

A common choice of emulator is the Gaussian process emulator, which is discussed extensively in [2] and described in the next section.

Types of Uncertainty

There are many types of uncertainty associated with the use of simulators including input, model and observational uncertainty. One type of uncertainty induced by using an expensive simulator is code uncertainty, described by Kennedy and O’Hagan in their seminal paper on calibration [3]. To paraphrase Kennedy and O’Hagan: In principle the simulator encodes a relationship between a set of inputs and a set of outputs, which we could evaluate for any given combination of inputs. However, in practice, it is not feasible to run the simulator for every combination, so acknowledging the uncertainty in the code output is required. (more…)

ILRI sponsors Compass PhD project 

We are excited to announce a new partnership between Compass – the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Computational Statistics and Data Science – and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

International Livestock Research Institute

The first step in this new partnership is a co-funded and co-created PhD research project entitled A spatially explicit assessment of agro-pastoral sustainability in Kenya and Ethiopia. The aim of the PhD project is to develop a framework for the assessment of sustainability dynamics in ecologically important areas used by agro-pastoral and pastoral households. Mountainous areas are important water towers and reserves of biodiversity in East Africa, and conservation of such areas is important to stop degradation of the surrounding arid lowlands. However, population pressure and food demands continue to rise, so a sustainable balance between land use and land stewardship must be struck. The PhD project will build upon methods of agricultural sustainability assessment, and make use of spatial statistics to bring together data from household surveys, soil and water measurements, and remote sensing. The resulting analysis will contribute to the understanding of current human-environment interactions in the two study locations, and form the basis for developing scenarios considering the pros and cons of potential future changes. The PhD contributes to the ESSA project, and will operate in Yabelo, South-East Ethiopia, and the Taita Hills, South East Kenya.

“Coming from a geography background, the Compass-ILRI partnership is a fantastic opportunity for me to elevate my skill-set and apply cutting edge statistical techniques to the challenge of sustainable food security. ILRI are a world leader in agricultural research and I am really looking forward to learning from them and contributing to their important goal.” Dan Milner, Compass PhD student.

Dan Milner, Compass-ILRI PhD student

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works for better lives through livestock in developing countries. ILRI is co-hosted by Kenya and Ethiopia, has 14 offices across Asia and Africa, employs some 700 staff.

(more…)

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