Vivienne Blackstone, mathematical sciences portfolio manager at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), outlines the investments the research council is making to identify, nurture and support the statistics and applied probability research leaders of tomorrow.
EPSRC is the UK’s main agency for funding research and postgraduate training in the engineering and physical sciences, investing £800 million per year across a portfolio that ranges from manufacturing informatics to synthetic biology and from structural engineering to energy harvesting.
We frequently review both the scope and impact of our portfolio to ensure they align with our strategic goals, and have identified Statistics and Applied Probability as a key growth area within our 2011-2015 delivery plan.
The decision to increase investment in Statistics and Applied Probability was influenced by the findings of an independent International Review of Mathematical Sciences in 2010 (IRMS 2010), commissioned by EPSRC, which raised concerns about the fragility of the discipline, in particular the shortage of people at various career stages. In addition, the areas also have strong links to an array of application in other sciences, business, industry and government, as such people trained in these areas are in high demand. Since the IRMS 2010 we have had regular meetings with the RSS to discuss the concerns raised by the review and other matters.
EPSRC makes a significant contribution to the flow of highly trained individuals in statistics and applied probability, equipped to play key leadership roles within academia, business, government and beyond. In partnership with HEFCE, it has helped to build capacity in statistics through the investment of £10 million in three Science and Innovation (S & I) awards in statistics.
We have found one of the most effective ways to support the most talented individuals with academic careers is through fellowships. Statistics and Applied Probability is now a priority area for EPSRC fellowships across all career stages. Since July 2011 we have funded four postdoctoral fellowships, four early career fellowships and five established career fellowships in the area.
Statistics and Applied Probability will remain a fellowship priority for the foreseeable future and individuals with a proven track record of research excellence are encouraged to apply for EPSRC support.
To help support a new generation of early career researchers at a crucial stage in their academic lives, we have made awards of £600,000 each to two university-based centres, at Bristol and Warwick, focused on postdoctoral fellowships in statistics.
This investment, part of the EPSRC S&I Awards initiative, will also support postdoctoral fellowships and community workshops in the Statistics underpinning Science, Technology and Industry (SuSTaIn) centre at Bristol and the Centre for Research in Statistical Methodology (CRISM) at Warwick, and the intention is to maintain this momentum while working to raise the profile of EPSRC’s own fellowship opportunities.
If you are interested in being involved in the workshops, further information is available on the centres’ websites.
Nurturing the research leaders of tomorrow
Just as investing in emerging and established talent is crucial for all academic research to flourish, it is vital we are able to attract and nurture students at the start of their postgraduate careers. To this end, in February 2013 we announced a £350 million call for EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs).
This £350 million call is EPSRC’s core activity for 2013 and complements our investment over the past four years in over 80 EPSRC CDTs, some of which have relevance to statistics and applied probability including: Systems Biology at the University of Oxford, Mathematics and Statistics Centre for Doctoral Training (MASDOC) at the University of Warwick, Maths and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology (CoMPLEX) at University College London and Statistics and Operational Research (STOR-i) at Lancaster University.
The call identifies research areas we consider a priority for CDTs, of which Statistics is one, and there are several other priorities in which statistics and applied probability can play a key role, such as Data to Knowledge and New Mathematics in Biology and Medicine. The call’s outcome will be announced by the end of the year.
Investment in research
No portfolio would be complete, of course, without provision for projects focused on meeting some of today’s most pressing challenges. This is addressed by EPSRC through Programme Grants, which are large strategic investments supporting
world-leading research groups.
Last September we awarded a £2.4 million programme grant in statistics to the I-Like project, led by Gareth Roberts at the University of Warwick. The project, which also involves researchers at the universities of Bristol, Lancaster and Oxford, will combine promising recent ideas within statistics and harness the power of modern multi-core computing to tackle some of the most important statistical challenges that arise across many modern-day applications.
Over the past year the Mathematical Sciences theme has been working with the Healthcare Technologies and Manufacturing the Future themes. Through these activities we have invested in statistics and probability research which may help address some the challenges in these areas.