In CHOOSEMATHS grant winner profiles
CHOOSEMATHS Grant recipient profile: Jasmine Bermas

Jasmine Bermas

The University of New South Wales

Jasmine Bermas is a postgraduate student at University of New South Wales currently studying her masters in statistics and is due for completion mid 2018. She completed her undergraduate degree in July 2016 at University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Medicinal Chemistry and Financial Mathematics and Statistics.

Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community

The type of mathematics I am studying is statistics, a common misconception among people I’ve encountered is that all we do is handle surveys, but it is so much more. Statistics is being able to transform all types of datasets to perhaps formulate models for forecasting, test different hypotheses to gain inference, or to simplify complex data to improve interpretability. All whilst accounting for the accuracy, reliability, validity and the precision of the methods used with observation to its probability and likeliness.  The impact of statistics is everywhere, for example, bushfires, statistics may be used to determine causes or factors that contribute to bushfires, whether natural or not. It can also be used to predict how likely the occurrence or severity of a bushfire would be at a particular location based on previous and current environmental conditions and with this information prepare protection plans to prevent or deliver quick and efficient safety responses. The applications are really endless.

How important was receiving a CHOOSEMATHS grant in terms of your ability to attend and fully participate in the AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017 sessions throughout the week?

The CHOOSEMATHS grant was very important for me as a full-time student. Without a full-time job and working casually in my spare time especially during the holiday period, it has helped tremendously to cover the cost of travel and accommodation that was conveniently accessible and safe whilst traveling solo.  If this were not the case I would not have been able to attend and fully participate in all the talks and program extras.

How important are initiatives such as the CHOOSEMATHS Grants in terms of fostering the participation and achievement of women in mathematics, particularly in terms of access to networking opportunities and further training opportunities?

Receiving a CHOOSEMATHS grant meant more than just financial support, it has proven to me that AMSI has made a conscious effort to create balance to bring awareness that we, as women, are equally valued as men in this field. By developing these programs that consist of networking and training opportunities it is important that to foster participation of women in maths then they may actually be able to access these events as the CHOOSEMATHS grant has provided. This not only ensures their attendance but may assist in further career progression at any level of study or experience. I was glad that I had made contacts and was able to converse with people with similar interests who gave me great advice and perspective into the many different projects they were taking on in bioinformatics.

In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Has it influenced the direction of your research?

This upcoming semester I have my coursework project (thesis) to deliver and one of my main goals was to gain inspiration from relevant topics and areas of study. Although my degree has taught me many things AMSI BIS has shown me a wide range of ways how mathematics and computing skills are applied in real life to the research of those presenting driven by scientific discovery and purpose.

Each of the talks were very insightful and particularly the area of metabolomics interested me the most since I also completed a medicinal chemistry major in my bachelor degree. Thanks to AMSI BIS it has definitely helped me to decide to choose an applied approach of statistics in human biology and will follow up on techniques and resources that were introduced during the program.

What was the most valuable part of AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017 for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?

For someone who is based predominately on R the most valuable part of AMSI were the workshops. Being adaptable with your skills is crucial, especially with coding in statistics and so I was very eager to go to the introduction on python workshop. Many speakers also gave great suggestions on other online tools to help practice different languages. Although they were brief I enjoyed learning about all the graphing packages for data visualisation and how in the presentations researchers were able to interpret the biological significance of these results.

A presentation on the AMSI Intern program was included as part of the Careers Session. One of the aims of the AMSI Intern program is to maximise employability and help prepare research graduates to drive industry/private sector research. Are you hoping to work with industry? How important is this experience for researchers? Particularly in terms of offering career flexibility for women?

I do hope to work in industry one day and if ever I was to move onto PhD level or if the AMSI intern program was made available to coursework students I would definitely apply. I do see the value that the AMSI intern program provides for students giving them the opportunity to gain experience but also for industry as interns may introduce new ideas, potential employees for the future and as well as help diversity flourish within the company. As a research student this experience is important as it will teach them new skills and how to familiarise themselves in a different work setting. For women particularly, this gives them the ability to learn how to adapt and be flexible in their career.

The CHOOSEMATHS Grants are part of a broader program being delivered by AMSI Schools with support from BHP Billiton to turn the tide on Australia’s maths deficit and strengthen maths education and participation of women across the discipline. What do you see as the big challenges facing maths in Australia, particularly for women?

In order for Australia to increase the number of female mathematicians we must first target young girls in the course of their school education which is why I strongly support AMSI maths mentoring program. I believe that this may help to change the perception of students towards maths by teaching them how maths can give them a platform which opens up to a wide number of applications in real life given the support of experienced role models.

Did you always want to pursue a career in maths? Were you encouraged to study these subjects at school? Do any particular mentors come to mind? Any outstanding teachers?

I wasn’t ever quite certain what I wanted to do, I had always enjoyed science however I had no interest in maths until year 11. My teacher definitely influenced my love for maths, her passion and enthusiasm made the subject more exciting and she made it clear that we had the potential to do well even when I felt doubtful. In the end I ended up placing first at my school with my only regret that if I had known how much I liked it I would have picked up 3 unit. I definitely did struggle with maths in my undergrad but it was clear how valuable statistics was particularly and it resonated in everything I did with science. I wanted to learn more and improve my analytical skills and after 1.5 years I can see clearly now that doing postgrad statistics was the best decision I’ve made yet.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years time?

In five years I see myself as being a confident, experienced statistician with great coding ability, who is able to effectively communicate and collaborate with hopefully industry researchers concerning public health.

Any other feedback/comments you would like to provide on the CHOOSEMATHS grant or AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017?

This year I attended both AMSI Summer School at University of Sydney and BioInfoSummer at Monash. Both of these events I found were very useful and highly recommend them especially to students who want to learn more about areas of mathematics that may not be offered during the course of their degree. It’s great because it doesn’t interrupt the busy schedule of the usual university semester. The lecturers and speakers are professionals and the programs are condensed with information on the most important aspects of their field to guide students in the right direction for them to then do their own independent study. Thanks to CHOOSEMATHS and AMSI, 2017 has been the most productive year I have had with regards to shaping the path of my career and am hoping that I can apply what I’ve learnt for an even better 2018.