Robin Williams

PhD student in Statistics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Robin Williams

1. What do you enjoy about studying or working in STEMM?

I have enjoyed the challenge of solving a variety of problems for as long as I can remember, and so studying mathematics at degree level and beyond was a natural progression for me. I achieved first class honours in my four year MMath degree, and thought that going on to study for a PhD seemed preferable to getting a so-called real job. As well as the work itself, I enjoy the fact that my disability really isn't a big deal in academia. People tend to just be interested in the quality of my work, and I don't find myself dealing with the tedious questions and comments that one sometimes encounters outside of academia.

2. What do you do day-to-day in your work or study?

My PhD is centred around the development of new statistical models that allow us to accurately forecast the probability of the occurrence of certain weather events, with a focus on extreme events such as floods and heat waves. My daily work therefore involves dealing with weather forecast and observations data, and using a combination of statistical theory and software to formulate good models. I then write up my results in technical reports and, if the work is of a suitable quality, in to research articles.

3. What has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?

The biggest challenge to me as a blind statistician is dealing with diagrammatic material such as graphs and maps, which are frequently used in my field. I think a deal of patience is necessary here - sometimes you just have to acknowledge that certain things are difficult and require additional effort. I try to reduce the numbers that go in to forming the diagrams to a quantity and format that I can understand and digest, and sometimes some innovative thinking is required. Often, however, I will ask my sighted colleagues for assistance. In my experience, you really can't be too proud to do that and people are generally very willing to help.

4. What has been the highlight of your career so far and what are you hoping to go on to do in the future?

My biggest achievement to date must be the publication of my first paper, with hopefully another to follow shortly. I am unsure of the direction my career will take after my PhD, as I also have some external interests, although I would consider further academic work. I also have a developing interest in the use of statistical models for forecasting sporting events, which I hope will provide me with either a future source of research or employment in industry.