19 October 2021
Julie Mugford is applying the skills that she learned through her doctoral project with Te Pūnaha Matatini to a career across the public service.
As she entered the final year of her PhD in 2020, Julie Mugford spotted an advertisement for a role with the Ministry of Transport.
Julie had just completed an internship with the Ministry of Social Development, to see whether she enjoyed working in the public sector. She had found it a good fit, and when she saw a job available with ‘agent-based modelling’ in the description, she jumped at the chance.
From May 2020 to September 2021, Julie worked as a data analyst on the team that is creating an agent-based model of the Aotearoa New Zealand transport system.
“It has the whole New Zealand transport network,” explains Julie. “All the roads and public transport options, cycleways and footpaths. Then it has a population of typical New Zealanders with their activities that they want to do during the day, such as going to school or to work.”
“They decide what time of the day they’re going to go and what mode they’re going to use. The aim of the model is to be able to change policy settings – for example, road pricing – and see what affect it has on transport behaviour and assessing the social and environmental impacts of such changes.”
This is new territory for transport policy in Aotearoa New Zealand. Small detailed modelling tasks and larger scale aggregated modelling are already in use, but Julie is not aware of any agent-based modelling being used here. She notes that this approach has already been successfully applied in London, Melbourne, and some European countries.
Julie’s PhD project in applied mathematics looked at citizen science, where members of the public help scientists gather and analyse various forms of information. The central question of her project was whether scientists could get useful insight out of noisy, biased citizen science data.
She worked with her Te Pūnaha Matatini supervisors to develop methods to improve the reliability of data collected or analysed by members of the public through platforms like iNaturalist.
Being involved in Te Pūnaha Matatini and Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau was the highlight of Julie’s PhD experience.
“Te Pūnaha Matatini is full of so many amazing people,”she says. “It was a welcoming environment, and the interdisciplinary focus of Te Pūnaha Matatini added more depth to my PhD than I could have ever imagined when I signed up to a PhD at the University of Canterbury School of Mathematics and Statistics.”
She says that there was always a lot of variation in the speakers and activities that the Whānau organised, and serving as the chair was a great opportunity to develop leadership experience while studying.
Julie is enjoying working in the public sector and plans to explore working at different ministries over time. She recently continued this journey by accepting a role as a Senior Analyst at the Ministry of Health.
“I like working in the public sector. It’s really great how there are these big problems that I can work on and they actually require all the experience that I’ve gathered from my education.”