Spotlight series

Let's turn the spotlight on our academics!

Find out more about their research and much more below. 

In a way, what really matters to me, more than the direct outputs, is the experience I get through it.

This is a brand new section to the Department of Statistics website. We currently have a spotlight on Profesesor Barrieu, but we shall be adding to this very soon so pop back over the next few weeks to find out more on our academics! 

Spotlight on...

Professor Pauline Barrieu 


How would you describe your research in your own words?

I am deeply interested in inter-disciplinary work. For me, research makes sense if I am at the boundary between different disciplines. I have been lucky to work in a wide range of areas, such as economics, finance and more recently the environment. What I particularly appreciate in my research is to see what happens when these areas meet.

Recently, my interest has been about understanding "what is a model". Not necessarily from a statistician’s point of view but more generally. What does a model mean for different fields of research? How do they approach a problem and develop a model to solve it? In this sense, I'm a bit of an outlier, reaching researchers outside of my own field.

A problem encountered by people working on a trans-disciplinary project is that concepts have different meanings depending on your area of expertise. Other scientists will have a different understanding than yours; the vocabulary is not the same for a biologist, an economist or a physicist. Therefore, a lot of time is spent going back to that point, communication, and then you increase your knowledge about other disciplines.

When it works, it challenges the way you think and generates something rich and useful.

How do you export the statistical tools used for the financial market to environmental management?

In a way, looking at the things I have been doing in my research requires thinking about management of risk as well as the decision process. Looking at how to transfer risks from the insurance sector to the financial market and manage them in a better way. Regarding environmental issues, it is also very much about considering the risk you are taking to develop a policy that can lead to an improvement. That is why it goes beyond finance and insurance but also the environment. It is more general.

For a couple of years now, I have been working on a project precisely on this, where I am looking at the very definitions of model, risk and uncertainty in different areas. I have been interviewing researchers from diverse fields, such as statistics, cosmology, biology, chemistry, medical research or drug design. At some point it always comes down to the same idea: to consider a risk and take a decision. 

How do you see research?

For me, research is influenced by the way you are trained. A PhD student will follow a supervisor who might shape his vision of research. Mine had a very sociable approach, and through her I learned how to do research as a sort of nice human experience. Nowadays, a research project can easily start from a conversation with someone I get along with. This is what happened for the project on environmental management; I met this person, an environmental economist, who was very nice and we started this project together.

I don't dissociate the process of doing research from the human experience behind it, and I get a great deal of learning from each other. In a way, what really matters to me, more than the direct outputs, is the experience I get through it.

Professor Pauline Barrieu is the Head of Department of Statistics.