Integrative Think Tanks (ITTs)

We organise workshops involving PhD students, academics and external collaborators, to formulate challenges into mathematical problems.

What is an Integrative Think Tank?

ITTs were pioneered and developed in 2015 by staff in the Centre for Doctoral Training for Statistical Applied Mathematics (SAMBa). They provide training to SAMBa students, but they also generate ideas that can be jointly pursued between academics and industrial partners, and lead to direct impact in terms of applications and research.

Integrative Think Tanks (ITTs) are our flagship activity and are about mathematical problem formulation. We bring people together to develop approaches to applied challenges.

Working with the SAMBa students and academics is very rewarding and they add new ideas to help our business.

I was very impressed with the Think Tank, and pleasantly surprised at how much was achieved in such a short space of time. I would recommend this approach to any potential industry partners looking to breathe new ideas into their business.

Dr Alun Bedding,
Global Head of Methods, Collaboration and Outreach, Roche.

I believe that industrial and academic collaboration is essential to address society's greatest challenges.

Since I have an industrial background, I have always been interested in how this interaction takes place. ITTs have been great experiences to really see how mathematical research underpins advances in industry and society. I found the challenge presented by AVL very interesting and I am looking forward to work during the next few years on air quality modelling and its impact on traffic management.

Laura Oporto, SAMBa cohort 5

ITT Concept

ITTs are facilitated, week-long, off-campus workshops involving around 80 participants. They include postgraduate students, academics from mathematical sciences, application-focused researchers, and collaborators from around the world.

Participants are presented with high level challenges from non-mathematical partners. They work in small groups to formulate them into mathematical problems.

It is not the aim of an ITT to solve problems, but to identify and to test preliminary routes to a solution and the mechanisms to take them forward.

Follow up from ITTs can take many forms and each will be tailored to the individual partner and ideas that are generated. Many ideas become long-term projects (as PhD studentships or research grants), some are picked up as short-term projects (through reading courses, or student secondments, for example). Taking forward ITT outputs is a collaborative process and each one is different.

ITTs in practice

ITTs are week-long events and take place twice a year, in January and June. Each ITT welcomes two partners that are identified at least four months before the event to enable preparatory work to take place.

The ITT build-up takes place through a student-led symposia series, where partners give SAMBa students and other ITT participants a preliminary overview of the challenges that they would like to bring to the ITT.

In collaboration with academic staff, students identify the background information that is required to prepare for the ITT. This could include expert lectures, training in software, or mini-courses. The programme is organised by the students themselves.

Impact and outcomes

ITTs continue to deliver long after the event has taken place with collaborative research continuing through a variety of mechanisms including jointly funded studentships, externally funded research, and first year PhD projects. One activity can lead onto another and so projects related to ITTs can begin a while after the ITT experience. We aim to develop relationships with partners that last of the order of 5-10 years and often welcome ITT partners back a few years after their first visit to develop new ideas.

Find out more about the collaborative
research with our partners

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