The time for my first secondment is about to arrive and I have to say that reading previous stories in this blog has set the bar high for this new experience. We are aiming to start a collaborative work between my lab at Blaise Pascal University and the Statistics Department at the University of Padova (UNIPD), with two secondments planned: mine during next February in Padova and Greg’s here in Clermont-Ferrand in a couple of months.
The main goal of the secondment is to work on Statistical Learning algorithms such as the ones using Gaussian Mixture Models for clustering, a subject of research at UNIPD, with potential applications in searches for new physics. Greg has already written a nice post about these models, also citing an example in High-Energy Physics. In upcoming posts I’ll give more details on the subject and how we can make use of them in General Searches for New Physics — ultimately, the goal of my doctoral studies.
While arranging my stay in Padova, there were two interesting points raised in a discussion with the statisticians. Firstly, as pointed out by Cecilia, language can be a barrier. This is not necessarily difficult to overcome, but sure it can introduce some confusion to a discussion (for example, “normal” could mean either “gaussian” or “without anomaly” in different contexts). Also, on a more practical side, the programming languages commonly used by statisticians and physicists are not necessarily the same. Secondly, we have to figure out a way to provide data for our studies that is both useful for physics searches and “legal.” With the last I mean that it is not possible to analyze data from an experiment like ATLAS with people who is not affiliated to the collaboration (like the colleagues in Padova), at least before the official analyses have been published.
Just before the beginning of my secondment, our Network is hosting a workshop on soft skills in Padova during the first three days of February. I have to admit that the first time I’ve come up with the term “soft skill” was when I heard about this workshop, not long ago. Now that my academic expertise on the subject is at the level of the first results of a Google search, I realize that such skills (that include effective communication, language skills, empathy and teamwork) are necessary in virtually any job. A good handle of them can be very suitable for solving the issues I just described above!
Since I didn’t have the opportunity to go to Oxford to attend our last workshop in December (I was visiting my home country at the time), this one will be my chance to finally meet in person with the rest of the ESRs as well as the other members based in Padova. This link with colleagues around Europe is important not only for academic purposes, but also can really get you out of trouble, for example, to find accommodation in Padova (thanks, Cecilia!) or if you happen to miss a flight home in Lisbon (thanks Giles, even if you were in Japan!).
I hope to come back soon with more about Statistical Learning and New Physics in Padova and, why not, something about the wines from Valpolicella and panini alla porchetta.