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July 29, 2022

Industry turns to UCalgary math sciences grad students to solve complex problems

New federal funding for Math to Power Industry workshop ensures program's sustainability

An energy company has run into a problem that requires a strong technical skillset in the mathematical sciences to solve and the solution is needed for business expansion.

A graduate-level math and statistics student at the University of Calgary is looking to pursue a non-academic career in the industry and is looking for a way to get in.

It’s a match made in heaven, and the Math to Power Industry workshop (M2PI) is the perfect matchmaker.

“The beauty of the Math to Power Industry workshop is that it equally benefits the M2PI fellows (students and postdocs in the mathematical sciences who are enrolled in the program) and our employer-partners,” says Dr. Kristine Bauer, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the Faculty of Science.

The M2PI workshop has been hosted annually by the Pacific Institutes of Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) since 2020. Graduate and postdoctoral students from across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Washington state can apply to join the program.

Once enrolled, students and industry partners are brought together to form teams and engage in work-integrated learning projects to develop solutions to problems required by the industry partner for business expansion. These solutions can include launching new product lines or generating improvements in existing markets.

At the same time, the fellows receive formal classroom and informal on-the-job training that prepares them to transfer their skills to a non-academic setting.

“Employers get solutions to problems which require a technical skillset and students gain valuable work-integrated learning experiences which they can use to strengthen their job-application materials,” says Bauer, who also serves as co-director industry for PIMS, overseeing the M2PI workshop.

Kristine Bauer

Dr. Kristine Bauer

Kristine Bauer

Now, thanks to a federal investment of $200,000 from Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan), the M2PI workshop will be able to move to a sustainable model.

“I am extremely grateful to PrairiesCan for providing funding which will allow us to continue to offer this important experience to highly qualified graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the mathematical sciences,” says Bauer.

The funding will be used to hire a co-ordinator for the program, allow students to purchase accounts on cloud computers to further the development of their projects, and allow the teams to meet in-person, a first for the program.

Bauer says she and her team have trained more than 100 students in the workshop in the past three years, and she is very proud of what they have accomplished. She says the projects students have completed directly show that mathematics and statistics are key skills needed for the Canadian economy.

“With PrairiesCan funding, we will be able to continue to connect these incredibly talented students to employers who value their skills,” says Bauer.

The M2PI workshop is unique in Canada, as it is the only program that offers training, work-integrated learning projects and career support for a broadly defined mathematical-science audience. Other Canadian mathematics institutes offer industrial problem-solving workshops, but they are offered less regularly and do not include the job-skills or career support M2PI does.

Overall, one-sixth of the students who have gone through the program came from UCalgary. These students have been teamed up with industry partners such as Cenovus, ATCO and Natural Resources Canada.

One student credits getting his current job at Cenovus Energy directly to having participated in M2PI.

For Bauer, the workshop is a win for everyone involved and has an even broader impact on Canada.

“In the end, the Canadian economy wins because I believe that having more employees with these skills will help companies to grow and will support diversification of the economy,” Bauer says.