About me

7 minute read

Welcome!

Who am I?

My name’s Ethan and I’m a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. As you have perhaps deduced from the header, I’m also an organist. I like coffee, sunshine and the feeling you get when code does what you wanted it to. I officially started my PhD on 1 October 2020, with the official title:

Game-theoretic and probabilistic methods applied to spatial network models of contagion.

Below, you can find all sorts of information (and answers to unasked questions) about me, my interests and what I’m up to. I can’t help but feel this hopelessly narcissistic, so please also find some interesting information not about me in General Information and Useful Links!

My research

In practice, my research title means that I study games played on “graphs” (also called networks, graphs are collections of vertices/nodes connected by edges) and how, by introducing some grey areas using probabilities, I can run these games as effective and useful models for contagion. This may refer to a forest fire, a meme spreading on a social network, a message in an underground revolutionary communication network and so on - the potential applications intersect huge portions of our lives and cultures. Most of the work done in this area so far assumes lots of simplifying measures, such as ‘regular graphs’ which translate to a network of individuals being a well-mixed population where everyone has the same number of contacts. We know this isn’t very true to the reality of the situation, so using probabilistic methods we can introduce some more useful random distributions, where some people know loads of other people and other people come into contact with very few people regularly. Further, we can make the contagion transmit with a given probability, thereby providing the model with a more interesting spreading pattern than is usually assumed in the literature, which can make our strategy for defence against the contagion far more interesting and useful. In particular, I want to create models imbued with agency-related

In the above formulation, the main area of interest in understanding these games is Decision Theory. However, Game Theory comes into this in a special way when we not only think of ourselves as defending against this contagion, but think of the contagion as another player; perhaps we want to know what the contagion’s best strategy is, if it were a virus with genes edited so that it gives any host it infects resistance to a particular disease, for instance. Of course, this context comes with all sorts of ethical considerations that are far from trivial, and this is something I’m also very interested in exploring in my work. Nonetheless, I hope that the particular focus of my work will be introducing agency into models of contagion, so that we can produce better and more meaningful ways to understand how diseases spread or any of the other contexts I’ve mentioned.

Academic Background

Summary

This is a very brief summary of my academic experience and activities; below, you will find some highlights expanded on in a little more detail.

Qualifications:

  • B.Sc.(hons.) Mathematics and Philosophy, University of Glasgow, 2017 - 2020
  • PhD Candidate, Computing Science (Formal Analysis, Theory and Algorithms research section), University of Glasgow, 2020 - present (ongoing)

Teaching:

  • Tutor and Lab Demonstrator, School of Computing Science, University of Glasgow, 2020 - present
    • Programming (Java beginners, MSc (IT) conversion course)
    • Object-Oriented Software Engineering (Level 2)
    • Java Programming (Level 2)
    • Algorithmic Foundations (Level 2)
    • CS1PX (Python, level 1)
    • Foundations of Professional Software Engineering (Level 1, Graduate Apprenticeship program)

Academic body memberships and involvement:

  • Associate Member of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (AMIMA), 2020 - present
  • Member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, 2020 - present
  • Executive Committee Member for Welfare and Inclusion of the ePCC (the online Postgraduate Combinatorial Conference), 2020 - present
  • Lanfine Organ Student, University of Glasgow, 2020 - present

Pre-University

I was born in London and spent my first few years there before moving to the North East of England. I attended Cardinal Hume Catholic School, Gateshead - the town I grew up in. I studied GCSE subjects from maths and further maths to music and French, and went on to study four AS-levels: maths, further maths, physics and history. I then went on to complete my A-levels in maths, further maths and history before leaving the North East for the University of Glasgow. I also completed an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) on the ‘beauty of mathematics,’ which was one of the highlights of my sixth-form years!

BSc (Maths and Philosophy), University of Glasgow, 2017-2020

I started my joint honours BSc in Maths and Philosophy in September 2017. I enjoyed modules in that time ranging from multivariable calculus and applied mathematics to bioethics and epistemology. The only constant across my choices was that I wanted as much training in as many areas that I was interested in as I could, so that I could make as informed a decision once I graduated as possible. Generally, degrees at Scottish universities are 4 years long, but I managed to begin with advanced entry to year 2 because of my A-level grades, meaning I graduated in June 2020. Of course, the world was in the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time, so - like all my fellow graduands - I graduated in absentia with my degree certificate sent to me in the post some time later.

I still keep updated with many areas of philosophy, notably bioethics, formal logic and epistemology. In fact, I am a teaching assistant on a level 2 course in Computing Science here at Glasgow called Algorithmic Foundations (AF2), which contains a great deal of formal logic; I knew it would come in handy one day! Although it’s not often the students want to hear me debate myself over how well (or poorly) the material conditional operator translates the English phrase “If X then Y” or the implications of S5 ontological arguments…

Institute of Mathematics and its Applications Associate Membership as of 2020 (AMIMA)

Once I had graduated, I applied for and obtained an associate membership to the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications; this means I can still keep a foot in the wider world of mathematics, even though I now belong to Computing Science. I get more than a little excited when the magazine, Mathematics Today, comes in the post and I get to hear what is going on, particularly in public maths engagement. It’s always that little bit more exciting when I see a talk coming up or article written by a mathematician I know from my undergraduate or have since met - the world seems to get smaller by the day.

PhD, University of Glasgow, started 2020

Currently, I am embarking on my next academic adventure, my PhD also at the University of Glasgow. As I’ve mentioned, this is in the department of Computing Science at the University, so I’ve done a fair bit of department swapping by this point! Nonetheless, I couldn’t be more excited (perhaps because I’ve not long started) to undertake this huge project and I’m so lucky to have the supervisor I do to help and guide me through this process.

My hobbies and other interests

In my spare time, I’m a keen artist (though my keenness doesn’t make up for my amateurism) and musician. I play the viola, and have done so in several orchestras, not because I’m any good but because everyone always needs a viola player. When I was around 14, I taught myself to play the piano, which in turn led to me teaching myself to play the organ. This latter instrument is the one I’m usually playing at the moment; organists are in constant demand for “hatches, matches and dispatches” as a colleague once put it (meaning births, marriages and funerals). I’m a Lanfine organ student to the University of Glasgow, meaning I get to play for many wonderful celebrations of academic achievements as well as very old traditions and ceremonies still held by the University. The best part is I can go and practice on the chapel organ, on the main campus of the University, whenever I like - so long as I don’t get carried away and disturb the teaching that goes on near the chapel! I also enjoy all things analogue: whether it’s building a bottle rack from scratch or repairing used furniture, wood-working is an example of how I try to move from using only my brain all day to involving my hands in something. I’ve also gone a little more intricate at times with electrical engineering; I hope to include this in my project if time permits and the application suits. I’m now never far from a soldering iron; I don’t know any electrical appliance (besides those of value) that hasn’t at least been opened up for a look at this point!