Lindsay Lee

Lindsay LeeDegree: BSc Mathematics

Graduate role: Leverhulme Research Fellow, Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science

"I decided to do a maths degree whilst crying down the phone to my mum from a little town in Germany where I was supposed to be working as part of my German degree at the University of Lancaster – I remember saying, 'but I really miss doing maths'. I quit my German degree midway through and went to work for an IT company back home. I worked on a lot of projects in Sheffield and after a visit to a friend in the city decided to ring the University of Sheffield and enquired about maths degrees.

"In the first year of my degree I decided I really wasn’t a fan of statistics and when asked what I would do when I graduated the only thing I was really sure of was, and I quote ‘not statistics’. Something happened in my second year though, I think it might have been building the transition matrices for Markov chains, it suddenly all made sense and I could see that statistics was useful in the real world. I went to admissions and convinced them that the applied maths modules I was supposed to do in the second year would be better replaced with statistics modules – I was hooked!

"I went on to do the MSc in Statistics at Sheffield – applied statistics really appealed to me and I found some of the projects captivating, like using cluster analysis to identify the origins of language, the statistics behind the mass media and estimating the number of left-hand pound coins in circulation (as a leftie myself I was just thrilled to know they existed). I also really enjoyed learning about Bayesian statistics and computer simulation – this ended up being the foundation of my whole career. My MSc dissertation used statistics (particularly time series analysis) to quantify the uncertainty in layer counting of ice cores – this was when I decided I really wanted to apply the statistics I’d learnt to uncertainty in earth science.

"Lucky for me, a PhD position was advertised in the Statistics group at Sheffield, working with colleagues in Applied Maths, and Animal and Plant Sciences, to use statistics to study how the concentrations of atmospheric carbon from plants, trees and soil changed with the climate.

"I grew to love Sheffield during my time at the University and didn’t really want to move. During a scan of jobs.ac.uk I spotted what I thought would be my perfect job. It was using similar techniques to those in my PhD but looking now at how computer modelling leads to uncertainty in the concentrations of small atmospheric particles that can affect climate and air quality. Even better it was in Leeds so I could still live in Sheffield.

"I now work in the School of Earth and Environment in Leeds with those who model the Earth’s atmosphere. When I arrived I was the only statistician in the department. I have learnt a lot about Earth sciences and how the Earth is modelled in computers. This has allowed me to apply the statistics I learnt during my time in Sheffield to study the uncertainties that come from using computers to simulate the real world. I now get invited to talk at international conferences, at university seminars, and at public lectures. I have been able to travel the world to present my research and now the international community is realising the value of statisticians in earth science departments. In fact, in Leeds we now have three and hopefully we’ll be staying for a while."