ICS Statistics Unit: Two years of promoting interdisciplinarity and mathematical rigor in University research

Jesús López Fidalgo, the Statistics Unit director, explains that during the last two years, his unithas collaborated on scientific publications in fields such as healthcare, architecture and fashion

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Jesús López Fidalgo
FOTO: Elena Beltrán
14/09/18 11:04 Isabel Solana

The ICS Statistics Unit was founded two years ago with a transversal approach and with the goal of promoting scientific collaboration with researchers at the center and from the rest of the University. Since its inauguration, the Unit has offered statistical advice on projects in many areas, such as healthcare, architecture, and fashion.

"We want campus researchers to feel the benefits of having us as part of their team as collaborators, rather than as mere technicians or advisors." Jesús López Fidalgo, the director of the Statistics Unit, sees this as one of the main challenges the Unit faces.

Examples of fruitful collaboration abound, however, for example, with the ATLANTES Program, an ICS project focused on the promotion of palliative care. The Unit has contributed its experience in the development and validation of surveys in various publications related to topics such as training healthcare professionals, the development of country rankings or patients’ wish to die.

Outside of the ICS, one of the Unit’s most noteworthy collaborations on campus has been with SAVIArquitectura (Environmental Sustainability Housing Industrialization and Architecture), a project from the University of Navarra’s School of Architecture that researches eco-design of industrialized and sustainable structures, and the quantification of sustainable architecture.

López Fidalgo explains that they use a program that simulates energy expenditure in terms of temperatures. "The general idea is to find the best model, each of which involves considerable mathematical complexity, to achieve minimum energy cost," he adds.

Healthy lifestyles and diagnosing astroke

The Unit also collaborates with two projectsat the Clínica Universidad de Navarra. One has to do with lifestyles and the risk of developing a disease. "Thus, doctors can advise patients about diet, weight, physical exercise, etc. in a personalized way,” López Fidalgo noted. The other deals with the diagnosis of cardiovascular incidents.

Doctoral students have also knocked on the Statistics Unit’s door. For example, Patricia San Miguel, whose doctoral thesis studies, "Fashion Influentials: Opinion leaders and fashion consumption behavior: The case of millennials." With supervision from the Unit, she developed an online survey using snowball sampling.

Beyond the University of Navarra campus, the Unit also collaborates with other universities, especially with the University of Castilla La Mancha and the University of Salamanca. López Fidalgo worked at both universities as a professor and researcher before joining the ICS team. At his prior institutions, he formed a research group with funding from Spanish national research grants. The Unit has also developed professional contacts with professors from the Public University of Navarra, the Severo Ochoa BCAM Institute in the Basque Country, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​La Laguna and Almería, in Spain, and Harvard and UCLA (USA), Alberta and Manitoba (Canada), and Milan (Italy), among other foreign universities.

López Fidalgo stresses that, "It is important to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of other people working on similar issues." Thus, collaborators have visited the ICS during the last two years from centers such as the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics (BCAM), and from countries such as Italy, Canada, the United Kingdom or Egypt.

Mindful of the need to inspire future statistics professionals to ensure generational change, the Statistics Unit also participates in projects that help to convey to young people the importance of this discipline. One of them is “Stat Wars: Data Awakening,” which emerged as an initiative of the National Network of Biostatistics with financial support from the Spanish government’s Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT, for its initials in Spanish).

Within Navarra, the Statistics Unit also supports the Survey and Experiment Incubator Contest, co-organized with the Department of Statistics and Operational Research of the Public University of Navarra (UPNA), with the collaboration of the Navarra Society of Mathematics Teachers "TORNAMIRA" Matematika Irakasleen Nafar Elkartea, of the Statistical Institute of Navarra, and the Government of Navarra’s Department of Education.

Attracting talent to the team

For Jesús López Fidalgo, all of this is just the beginning of a long road: he wants to continue developing current projects and to promote experimental design, which is the Unit’s specialty. To do this, he emphasizes that it is key to attract talent to the team. In this line, Pablo Urruchi, will join the Unit this year. Pablo has worked as a data scientist at the UK headquarters of Avenade, a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture. He will begin his PhD at the ICS and will help in the coordination of the Big Data Diploma, which is now in its second year.

López Fidalgo indicates that he would like to consolidate the project in line with strategies implemented by the SAVIArquitectura project. It receives European Union funding, which partially contributes to the salary of a Statistics Unit employee (Lissette Álvarez previously and Leire Alegría currently). "This co-financing model is positive because several projects can share the cost of funding an expert in this field and, in turn, it helps us to grow and consolidate the Unit," he stresses.

He recognizes that the work of statisticians is highly valued in today’s market, especially by private companies, which makes it harder to find and keep talent. "In fact, two people who worked with the Unit during this past year have found jobs elsewhere, for example in a prestigious consultant group called Serikat (with headquarters in Bilbao)," he says.

However, for him, academic life has a specific attraction: "It is very satisfying to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and solve important problems for society, as well as to share one’s knowledge from a long career with future generations." Additionally, he emphasizes the versatility of the work because "statistics allows you to interact with researchers and professionals from very diverse fields. For example, at the same time that you are studying the migratory habit of blackbirds, you can get a call to collaborate on a project studying the retention of radiation in the human body.

Jesús López Fidalgo

López Fidalgo is a Full Professor at the ICS. Previously, he held the same position at the University of Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM). He has undertaken research and teaching stays at the Universities of Manchester, Glasgow and California (Los Angeles and Riverside). He is also an elected member of the International Statistical Institute.

He is currently the president-elect of the Statistics and Operations Research Society and editor-in-chief of the magazine Test. He previously managed the Spanish National Mathematics Plan within the Ministry of Science and Innovation (2009-2011) and was director of the Technical School of Industrial Engineers at the UCLM (2008-2016).

He has published more than 100 articles in scientific journals and has written several books, including on the popular El azar no existe (Chance does not exist in English). He has directed thirteen doctoral theses and coordinates one of 8 lines within the national network of Biostatistics.

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