Maths skills that add up in the health sector

Male teacher with mask teaching math lesson at school. Social distanting and classroom safety during coronavirus epidemic
Image: Shutterstock

Tackling infectious diseases is just one of the challenges, you can solve with a maths degree.

When Jess Liebig was studying maths at RMIT, she never thought her skills would come in handy during a pandemic.

Now, Jess and her team at the CSIRO are using massive data sets to model and predict the spread of infectious diseases from overseas in Australia. They’re working on everything from COVID-19 to the mozzie-borne dengue fever.

Changing things up

“I did my PhD in network science, which is often used to model disease spread, however that wasn’t the focus of my work,” says Jess. But when she stumbled across a postdoc position (which you go into after a PhD) at the CSIRO focused on modelling the spread of dengue fever, she realised she could use her mathematical expertise to solve big problems in health.

Jess Leibig
Image provided: Jess Leibig | Research scientist, CSIRO health & biosecurity

A big part of her work involves analysing air travel records and disease incidence rates to forecast the likelihood of a disease spreading in Australia.

Governments and public health organisations can use this information to develop plans to stop the spread ahead of time. Jess is also applying her maths know-how to explore how international travel restrictions have affected the spread of COVID-19.

“I thought it was really cool that I could apply all the skills I learnt previously to a new area and do something useful,” she says.

Career direction at RMIT

Jess did her undergraduate degree, honours and PhD in mathematics at RMIT, which gave her a solid grounding in statistics, probability and modelling.

RELATED: Get job-ready with computer science at RMIT

Students enrolled in RMIT’s mathematics and statistics degrees have the opportunity to participate in exciting industry placements in their third and fourth year with organisations such as Deloitte Australia, NAB and Police Victoria.

Those who take on particular subjects also have the opportunity to apply for the SAS Joint Certificate Program to learn how to use business analytics software, and with statisticians jobs set to grow by more than 9%, it’s worth knowing.

“Maths is a great foundation,” says Jess. “We’re becoming more aware of how it can be applied in the health sector. It’s a skill worth having.”

This article has been sponsored by RMIT and is part of the Careers with STEM maths and data 2021 issue. To learn more about studying applied mathematics and statistics, click here.

Gemma Conroy

Author: Gemma Conroy

Gemma is a freelance journalist with a passion for making science accessible to everyone. Gemma has a degree in biology from Macquarie University and loves sharing amazing discoveries with the world.

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