Keynote @ Charité Berlin

Apparently, it’s that time again. I just gave my second invited keynote at a conference at Charité Berlin. It was really fun.

The audience were dentists – academic dentists. I confess that I struggled to understand why they thought I would be a good fit for their conference. My previous keynote was at the BIH Digital Health Forum – a much more obviously appropriate audience. But, perhaps strangely, the fit was very good.

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Mathematics and Biology III – Bioinformatics

When I sat down in Summer 2018 to begin my blog one of my goals was to write approximately 5 definitive articles about Mathematics and Biology. So far, I have been pretty hard on the efforts in both fields to come together. I began with a review of the very different world-views inherent in the two subjects – combined with a call to arms for likeminded people to come and help out. I followed this with a more practical consideration of the repertoire of techniques necessary and the career constraints, which actively work against combining these two disciplines. Today I want to consider the shining example of bioinformatics – the one area in which mathematics is clearly being used in biology and which demonstrates a clear career path.

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One year-a blogging

One year ago I finally picked up the courage to put my thoughts publicly online. I led with a traditional Hello World but I quickly followed-up with my opening manifesto for the company I was trying to establish Simmunology.

The discipline of writing is something I initially discovered, when I first moved to Germany, 10 years ago. It clarifies my thoughts and allows me to discover the holes in my own thinking.

Blogging has paid off immensely. Before, I was afraid of sharing my thoughts and having my opinions come back to bite me. This sometimes led me to go too far down paths that I didn’t agree with.

Eventually I had to accept that I have accumulated considerable life experience. And that those to whom I was listening had typically less things of importance to say than I do. Finally, if I put it here and you disagree with me – I might change my mind – it will certainly lead to a more aligned working relationship.

Influences: John Holland

Sometimes I wait a too long before doing what I really want to do. I’ve postponed writing this article more than once. And this mirrors the fact that I postponed going to visit John H. Holland until I missed my chance.

Very few academics have influenced my thinking as much as John Holland did. We never met, although I did half my graduate studies in Chicago, only 6 hours away from his home in Michigan. He was actually the person I had most wanted to do a PhD with before I figured that the American system wasn’t for me. When he died, in 2015, I missed my final chance.

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Entrepreneur First the Index VC Fund

I took part in Entrepreneur First’s (EF’s) first Berlin cohort last summer. I have largely refrained from talking about my experience, even in private so far, but this hasn’t prevented a lot of people from giving me their opinions on the business model of EF.

The EF hypothesis sounds simple: get enough smart and motivated people together in a cohort and give them the opportunity (time, access to funds, etc.) to start businesses together and some of them will succeed…. bigly.

The venture capital community here in Berlin are not so convinced. Personally I sympathise with their doubts. Certainly from an operations point of view, scaling EF has seen problems. However, as a business model it may be genius.

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Influences: Nate Silver

Nate Silver is most famous in the political world for having correctly predicted the results, on a state-by-state level, of the US presidential election in 2008. That’s back when Obama was first elected president. It’s hard to imagine now, but the idea that Obama would win was only given an outside chance by most commentators at the time.

I find it hard to refer to Nate as anything other than Nate since I’ve been listening to the FiveThirtyEight podcast for so long. We don’t know one another, but he’s become a colleague and mentor who lives inside of my head. The reason he is so important to me is because he has become one of my strongest contemporary influences. His success has given me a roadmap for how to lead my life as a mathematical modeller.

I have been developing a series of articles on Mathematics and Biology (article 1article 2, more to follow). A common theme in these articles is how a mathematically trained individual finds their place in the modern work environment. We want to pursue our art, we also have professional standards and a lot to contribute, but somehow the connection between our skills and the needs of others are missing. By following Nate’s work, I have at least one strong role model who I can attempt to model. Continue reading “Influences: Nate Silver”