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Funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation, the Choose Maths Grants provide full or partial travel or caring responsibility support for Australian female mathematical sciences students and early career researchers attending AMSI flagship events. Competitively awarded by the Choose Maths Grant Committee, these awards remove barriers to enable women to extend their skills and professional networks.

Q&A with Ellie Dillon

AMSI caught up with Ellie Dillon from the University of Melbourne after she attend AMSI BioInfoSummer 2016 last November in Adelaide. We asked Ellie about her research, how Choose Maths helped her, and her future aspirations.


Can you tell us about yourself and your research?

I am a research assistant at the University of Melbourne, in the School of Population and Global Health within the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics. I am currently working on cost-effectiveness analysis of colorectal cancer screening. Before moving to Australia a year ago, I worked for the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust as a modeller analyst as my masters is in Operational Research and Applied Statistics. My main area of research is mathematical modelling of health sector problems, such as the blood supply chain and ambulance routing/location, however recently I have been moving towards more biostatistics and cancer related research.

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

I was not interested in maths until I was about 15 years old and then had a great teacher who made me enjoy the subject and realise I could do it. At each point from then on (now 10 years later) I have enjoyed it more and more, even though it is challenging at times.

How did your CHOOSEMATHS Grant you in fully attending AMSI BioInfoSummer 2016?

I attended BioInfoSummer 2016 to expand my knowledge in the biostatistics field as I come from a mathematics background. The CHOOSEMATHS Grant enabled me to attend the full week and experience the whole selection of subjects presented and networking events. I believe that sometimes women, I know I personally have, may feel like an imposter, that they are not clever enough or qualified enough to partake in these sorts of events, CHOOSEMATHS gives the encouragement to give it a go and see where it takes you.

How important are initiatives such as the CHOOSEMATHS Grants and events such as AMSI BioInfoSummer, in terms of fostering the participation and achievement of women in mathematics?

I believe these sorts of initiatives, such as CHOOSEMATHS, are very important in encouraging women, especially early career and students, to participate in events and build a solid network of peers and mentors.

In what ways has the experience at AMSI BioInfoSummer impacted your studies? Has it or will it influence the direction of your research?

I am currently a research assistant in the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Melbourne, but my background is in pure and applied Mathematics. I am planning on doing a PhD and attended BioInfoSummer 2016 to get a deeper understanding of research areas within biostatistics to focus the direction of my own research and hopefully PhD in the near future.

AMSI Flagship events will include an internship component to maximise employability and help prepare research graduates to drive industry/private sector research in the future. Are you hoping to work with industry? If so, how important do you think this experience is for researchers, particularly in terms of offering career flexibility for women?

I am no longer eligible for the internship, however I believe it is an important option to have available for undergraduates and master students. To gain real world work experience in the sector you are interested is extremely valuable, it gives you a better understanding of what your future career could be and how to achieve it, and maximises your employability.

What do you see as the big challenges facing the mathematics sciences in Australia, particularly for women?

I think one area that needs to be strengthen is relating the academic research that is being produced in mathematical sciences and applying it to Australian industries. In turn, this could produce opportunities for people interested in pursuing a career in maths but who do not want to work purely in academia. Additionally, it could provide academia opportunities to work with problems relevant to Australian’s.

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

In five years time I see myself having completed a PhD and in a research and teaching position. In ten years time I see myself as a valued part of a faculty contributing to high-level research and teaching, and mentoring students of all levels. My goal for my future is to become a professor.

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