Meet the speaker: Professor Dianne Cook

 In BioInfoSummer, Interviews, News

Professor Dianne Cook from Monash University shares with us her path into mathematical science, what research she is currently working on as well as an overview of her presentation at AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017.

Tell me about your research field, what drew you to this area and its impacts on discovery – its real-world applications?

I like to draw pictures of data. I have always been interested in art, and good at mathematics. Visualising data so that we can understand things like how genes express themselves, in relation to other genes or specific stimuli and treatments, and how they vary over all sorts of living conditions.

You are a researcher at Monash University. What are you working on currently?

I have several main current research activities: (1) visualisation of high dimensional spaces that will help us understand similarities and differences in physics models, (2) putting temporal data into a calendar format so that we can visualise people’s daily behaviours, (3) the interplay of statistical inference and exploratory visualisation, so that we can assess whether patterns in a plot are real or imaginary, (4) visualisation and modeling of tennis strokes.

What are the biggest challenges in this area and more broadly facing the global mathematics community?

Developing quantitative citizenship that we can all better understand the world around us, to critically assess what we are told in the media, by corporations, by government. To leverage open source software and open data with the quantitative skills to be able to do the analysis ourselves rather than rely on others to tell us.

Can you give me the elevator pitch for your AMSI BioInfoSummer presentation?

Understanding the intricacies of life is within our grasp with the collection of data on genetic behaviour under different conditions. These are big complex systems, and visualisation is a vital part to help make it less complex, to break it into pieces to understand the interplay of different parts, and assess the significance of differences.

How important are opportunities such as AMSI BioInfoSummer as we seek to strengthen national and international engagement within the mathematical sciences and prepare emerging research talent to drive innovation?

The progress being made in understanding the functioning of organisms is truly a global endeavour. This workshop provides the opportunity for Australians to cooperate with international experts in a friendly and relaxed setting.

How important are initiatives to provide industry experience and knowledge to graduates and address issues such as participation of women and indigenous Australians?

Access to funding for quantitative scientists is overwhelmingly granted to males, as documented by studying funding results over the past decade from ARC. This means that women are systematically excluded from the opportunity to determine the directions for the future. I do not have access to other demographics of funding success but suspect it is probably similar to that of women.

As part of Choose Maths, we are in the process of establishing a mentoring program particularly in relation to encouraging the participation of women. Who are your biggest maths influences or mentors, how have they impacted your maths journey and career?

Sometimes it is simply being there. I gravitated to Statistics as an undergraduate because there was a very talented female professor. And, I have been told by a colleague, that she fought to continue in academia because she saw my success as a professor, the first female professor she had seen. But it is more than this, as I have progressed in my career, it has been important to actively ensure that women’s job applications, and promotion packages were appropriately assessed, and invitations were issued to women to speak at conferences.

Did you grow up mathematical or did maths find you along the way?

I was good at math and just gravitated along these lines because my scores were always good. However, I almost dropped out in my early 20s because I could not see the relevance of the things I was being taught. It took study in the USA with people interested in math and visualisation that turned this around.

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