Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and Academy of Social Sciences

Kerrie Mengersen had a big year in 2018. She received recognition for her prolific contributions to her field, as she became a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (AAS), the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA), and the Queensland Academy of Arts and Sciences (QAAS).

Kerrie Mengersen
  • Queensland University of Technology

An exciting ride

When Professor Kerrie Mengersen was at school, she loved a wide variety of subjects, but mathematics and English were by far her favourites. Then, by the time she reached university, personal computing was really taking off and she wanted to be part of that, too.

Mathematics, English, and computing might have seemed like disparate interests to some, but not to Kerrie, because she had also discovered statistics.

"The field of statistics was a way of being able to combine all of my interests in English, in communication, in working with people from different areas in mathematics, and also in computing," she explains.

"I also saw it as the way to address real problems in areas of agriculture, environment, and health," she adds.

So this is what she set out to do.

Today, Kerrie is a Distinguished Professor of Statistics at QUT and also a Chief Investigator with ACEMS, where her pioneering research in Bayesian statistics allows researchers to update their understanding of a process or problem when presented with new data.

These days there is more data than ever and the data sources are becoming increasingly diverse, she says.

Because of the type and amount of data that people can now access, the kinds of problems that people are able to address now have really expanded.

said Kerrie

By expanding the statistical tool kit, too, Kerrie's research is enabling her and others to tackle incredibly diverse real-world problems involving the environment, animal conservation, health and disease management, business, and even urban infrastructure.

Kerrie and her colleagues launched two major digital projects: Virtual Reef Diver and the Australian Cancer Atlas. Virtual Reef Diver was developed in collaboration with marine scientists, citizen scientists, and explorers and seeks to build good models and predictions of the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Meanwhile, the Australian Cancer Atlas is an interactive digital atlas of cancer incidence and survival rates around the country. Developed with collaborators at QUT, the Queensland Cancer Council and FrontierSI, the Atlas is revealing health inequalities and helping governments better allocate scarce health resources.

For Kerrie, the diversity of such projects just goes to show how valuable statistics can be in addressing all kinds of problems.

"The awareness of statistics and what data can do is growing," she says. "I find it just a very fulfilling and great profession. The whole ride has been hugely exciting."