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Melissa Humphries

Mathematical statistician

As a mathematical statistician Melissa Humphries uses her maths skills to help people make sense of our world

When Melissa mentioned she was good at high school maths to an English lecturer at uni, it set her on an entirely different path towards a career in statistics. 

“I wanted something that was going to have an impact and a career where I could do fun and cool things and be creative,” Melissa says. “And I thought that maths was just formulaic, straightforward and boring,” she adds.

After a stint as a chef, Melissa decided to study psychology. Having picked up some first-year maths and statistics subjects, Melissa then discovered how many real world things rely on maths, from satellites to making planes fly.

“I realised maths, and especially statistics, is actually really creative, really flexible, and has a lot of impact,” Melissa says. “So by the time I finished my undergrad, I was offered honours in psychology and honours in maths and I chose to go with maths instead,” she adds.

Melissa went on to do a PhD in maths and statistics and the projects she now gets to work on are super cool!

“Some of the really complex stuff that I’m working on is trying to understand our immune system  holistically. So not just looking at your blood work or pictures of your brain, but building one model that tries to capture a human being,” Melissa says.”And that’s really challenging mathematically.”

One of Melissa’s students in her role as a lecturer in the School of Computer and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Adelaide is building a recommender system for forensic science, using AI. It would help police better work out which evidence to DNA test from a crime scene.

Melissa says maths and AI will be crucial to the big and incredible changes our world will need to make in the future.

“Can you use AI without understanding maths? Yes, you can. Can you be at the forefront of change? No, not without mathematics.”

Melissa’s study and career path to becoming a mathematical statistician

  • Certificate III in Commercial Cookery, Drysdale TAFE
  • Chef, Citrus Moon Cafe
  • Bachelor of Science (Mathematics and Psychology), University of Tasmania
  • Lecturer, University of Tasmania
  • PhD, Mathematics and Statistics, University of Tasmania
  • Senior Lecturer, University of Adelaide

This profile originally appeared in Careers with STEM: Maths & Data 2024.

For more on AI careers, check out our Robots and Artificial Intelligence page.

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