In CHOOSEMATHS grant winner profiles



Out of all the people who study mathematics and statistics, Laura Cartwright would definitely have to be… one of them. Beginning in a Bachelor of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Wollongong (UOW), Laura quickly realised it was mathematics that she wished to pursue, and after one semester transferred into a Bachelor of Medical Mathematics. Following this, she chose to continue studying mathematics and statistics, rather than focusing on the medical sciences, and she completed a Bachelor of Mathematics Advanced (Honours) in 2017. Now Laura is focusing on spatio-temporal statistics for her PhD (beginning in 2018), and is currently involved in an APR internship with Geoscience Australia. She is attempting to improve the estimated emission rates of certain trace gases from measurements. Laura is very much involved in the UOW community as well. She is President of the UOW Mathematics Society, and works as a STEM Ambassador for the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences.

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

During my honours year (2017), I worked with developing algorithms for detecting different shapes in images. In particular, I had a focus on cell classification. Developing more efficient algorithms for shape detection is becoming more and more important as we rely more on artificial intelligence.

This year (2018) I am beginning my PhD with an internship, looking at better ways to estimate emission rates of gases from measurements. This is particularly important as all countries who are members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are required to report trace gas emissions.

You received a CHOOSEMATHS Grant to assist your attendance at AMSI Summer School 2018. How important was this in terms of your ability to attend and fully participate in the sessions throughout the program?

Receiving the CHOOSEMATHS Grant was key in allowing me the opportunity to attend Summer School. I certainly did not have the funds travel down to, and spend a month in, Melbourne. The grant gave me the chance to attend my classes, and the many social events with a worry-free mindset, and so allowed me to concentrate on learning the content.

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?

Opportunities such as this one have allowed me to broaden my own knowledge, gain new experiences, and form new networks with people I may have otherwise never had the chance to meet. Supporting women in such activities allows them to make themselves known to a much wider range of professionals (both industry and academic), and gives them a very advantageous step-up in a widely male-dominated field.

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

If anything, being able to attend summer school has furthered my desire to continue studying in my current areas. The machine learning subject was particularly helpful to me, as it gave me a bit of a head-start before beginning my PhD.

What was the most valuable part of AMSI Summer School 2018 for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?

The extra social events were a great way to meet people who weren’t in my classes, and everything was a lot of fun. The lecturers were very knowledgeable and seemed to be true experts in their fields. I think one of the most valuable things I took away from this experience was the networks I was able to make both with my fellow peers, and these lecturers. I feel sure they will come in handy in years to come.

A presentation on the AMSI Intern program was included as part of the Careers Afternoon. 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 have actually just started a 5 month APR Internship with Geoscience Australia (first day was Feb 26th). One of my main worries about commencing a PhD straight out of Honours was that I was giving up the chance to gain some experience in industry first. The APR Intern program has allowed me the chance to work with an industry partner and gain some insight into industry-based research, whilst still continuing my own studies. I think this is a valuable opportunity and very important in broadening the career opportunities for any student involved, and that certainly includes women!

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?

I think one of the biggest challenges is encouraging younger students (e.g., in primary school) to enjoy maths. These days, there are so many automated devices which carry out many of the basic calculations that we used to have to perform for ourselves, and this means that children are possibly having less exposure to maths in their every-day lives. It’s great that higher-year students are being targeted by CHOOSEMATHS, but I feel that in a lot of cases, the positive support and encouragement needs to come at a younger age. In particular for women, maths and STEM-related fields are still fairly male-dominated areas, and so in encouraging females to pursue STEM/maths careers, in a lot of cases we also need to try to eliminate the feeling of being out of place in a male-dominated field.

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 always enjoyed maths, but not until very recently did I even consider a career in maths.

I think the person who encouraged me the most was my aunt, who was a maths teacher throughout the whole time I was in school. She helped me a lot, especially in my later high school years. Without that extra help I think I would have fallen into the all-too-common trap of “hating maths”.

I was also lucky to have very supportive and encouraging teachers when it came to maths in primary school. I think those teachers were especially important as I was so young, and easily swayed by the support and encouragement I was given.

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

Hopefully doing something I love! At the moment, I’d like to end up in statistical consulting, but who knows what will happen!

Any other feedback/comments you would like to provide on the CHOOSEMATHS grant or AMSI Summer School 2018?

I’d just like to thank both AMSI and CHOOSEMATHS again for the opportunity to participate in such a well-run, and fun summer school!