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Bayes Down Under: Presenting Your Research Overseas…and Finding the Funds to Do It!

Melanie Wilson’s research interests and the aims of the International Society for Bayesian Analysis (ISBA) World Meeting were a match made in the Outback—a combination easily romanticized on the surface, but fraught with practical financial peril as the expenses mount. Wilson, currently a fourth year doctoral student, develops statistical methods that simultaneously model genetic markers, which helps to overcome the limits that independence assumptions have imposed on genetic association studies. “At first the thought of being able to travel to Australia on a graduate student’s budget seemed unlikely,” Melanie recalls. At the same time, several faculty members in Duke’s Department of Statistical Science involved in the work of the ISBA were strongly encouraging their graduate students to apply to present at the meeting.

Despite her financial concerns, Melanie expressed her interest and was accepted to present; immediately, she began her search for conference travel funding. Noting that the faculty members she spoke with were very supportive, she explains, “In the end I received partial funding from numerous sources: the Graduate School, my department, my advisors, and various travel awards that covered almost the entirety of my trip. The best advice that I would give is to express interest early and talk to as many sources as possible about providing you with partial support.”

Attending the ISBA meeting gave Melanie the chance to discuss her work and the work of other researchers from around the world and provided the opportunity to develop relationships with future collaborators. “Attending meetings of this sort and stepping out of my typical research environment truly helped me realize the impact that my work might have on our society as a whole and also helped me to gain confidence in the importance of my research,” Wilson shares. “Personally, getting the chance to travel to the opposite side of the world and experience the culture and atmosphere of Australia was an opportunity that I will never forget. Staying in the Hamilton Islands and in Sydney allowed me to experience some of the world’s most beautiful scenery: the bleached white sands and clear waters of Whitehaven Beach, the intense colors and schools of beautiful fish while snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, and the amazing architecture of the Sydney Opera House. Having the opportunity to grow academically while being surrounded by such a serene atmosphere was a perfect example of achieving a balance between academic pursuits and personal fulfillment.”

Melanie looks forward to seeing Bayesian statistical methods become more widely accepted in the biological community. She also hopes that the methodology that she has developed thus far for genetic association studies will aid in the discovery of important genetic risk factors for complex diseases and will help society gain a better understanding of the biological processes that govern disease.