Young Researchers using Statistics Symposium 2020

On 27 May 2020 the RSS Highlands Local Group celebrated its third biennial symposium for early career researchers using statistics.

Originally planned as an in-person event for researchers in the local community, due to Covid-19 restrictions it was held on a virtual platform. However, this provided a great opportunity to make it international with over 70 registered participants from Spain, Ireland and all over the UK.

Keynote speakers Professor Adrian Bowman (University of Glasgow) and Dr Cornelia S Oedekoven (University of St Andrews) gave a thorough overview of state-of-the-art techniques in image analysis with different methods and applications.

In his talk 'Statistics with a human face', Prof Bowman focused on statistical shape analysis of high-resolution measurement of 3D images of faces using functional data analysis. He also highlighted some of the great medical applications of his fascinating research, eg in orthognathic surgery.

In her talk 'Counting dolphins and whales in the high seas: new opportunities using recent advances in technology', Dr Oedekoven described the many different challenges faced in her leading research to determine the abundance of dolphins and whales from the Eastern Tropical Pacific to the Antarctic. She articulately described how Mark Recapture Distance Sampling (MRDS) methods are used for estimating abundance from images captured by drones, observer counts, and acoustics data.

Both talks generated lively discussion amongst the very engaged audience.

Rapid-fire session talks given by early career researchers were our choice for this format to showcase their work. The selected talks from Aberdeen, Loughborough and Lancaster universities covered a broad range of topics including ecology, metabolomics, genetics and materials science, all with a sound statistical background.

There was general agreement amongst the judges on the high quality of the presentations and the fantastic research presented, and it was very hard to choose the winning presenters. Patrikas Pultinevicius (The Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen) won the prize for best overall presentation for his exceptionally well communicated talk and impressive research on 'Cell line generation for efficient exogenous protein production'. Davina Derous (School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen) won the best visuals prize celebrating Nightingale’s bicentenary, for her impactful data visualisations and effective communication to describe her research on 'What is a healthy dolphin? Better understanding cetacean energy metabolism by using an untargeted plasma metabolomics approach'.

The Nightingale’s prize to best visuals wasn’t the only way the symposium celebrated the bicentenary of the birth of the great nursing and stats pioneer. Altea Lorenzo-Arribas, chair of the symposium and member of the RSS Nightingale 2020 planning group, introduced the Highlands connection to Nightingale. In a short talk, Altea described how Nightingale twice visited Birkhall, near Balmoral, and had an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in September 1856 after returning from the Crimean War to request a reform on war hospitals. They agreed that it was very much needed and put her in contact with Lord Panmure, then secretary of state for war, who would request from her a detailed report on what she found in Crimea. This would lead to her distinguished report 'Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of the British Army'. The report included statistics and the well-known polar area diagrams showing the causes of deaths during the war and the impact that small sanitation improvements had.

These very effective diagrams were in fact the central topic of the symposium’s Nightingale2020 invited talk by Edward Gunning (University of Limerick), one of the winners of the Young Statisticians Section’s data visualisation challenge. He showed the audience how to recreate the diagrams in R using the Tidyverse and remarked how Nightingale was also ahead of her time in terms of replicable research, as her data was comprehensively reported and included extensive annotations.

Professor Marion Campbell, University of Aberdeen’s vice-chancellor for research and lifelong statistician, also built on Nightingale’s legacy in statistics communication to conclude the symposium: 'It is hugely important for us as statisticians to keep in mind that at the end of the day, it’s pointless if we can’t share with others what we do'.

For more information on the event check the Twitter hashtag #YRS2020 and the symposium’s website:

Dr Altea Lorenzo-Arribas, Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland
Dr David McLernon, Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen
Dr Lorna Aucott, Health Services Research Unit, University of Aberdeen

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