Australian Mathematical Society George Szekeres Medal

Peter Taylor joins an illustrious list of mathematicians being awarded the George Szekeres Medal, the highest honour from the Australian Mathematical Society.

Peter Taylor
  • University of Melbourne

Random effects

Following what he was good at and enjoyed led Professor Peter Taylor, Director of ACEMS, to a career in maths that he is grateful for every day.

"I'm very lucky. Some people work through five days of drudgery to get to the weekend. I appreciate that I can wake up every morning, whether a weekend or weekday, and enjoy the day," said Peter.

After starting his university studies in civil engineering, Peter found his way to physics and then applied mathematics.

"At high school I liked the outdoors and was good at maths and a careers questionnaire suggested that I should enrol in civil engineering," said Peter.

"Once I started, I was absolutely not interested. I wasn't interested in design, satisfying regulations, or drawing. However, in those days, students could easily swap courses, so I jumped into maths," he said.

Peter believes that good role models are crucial to helping children see that the options for maths careers, and he is a keen advocate for the CSIRO Mathematics in Schools and Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute CHOOSEMATHS programs.

After completing a PhD in 1987, Peter began working in applied mathematics and operations research: modelling and optimising the likes of telecommunications, management systems and socio-economic systems.

He is particularly interested in queueing behaviour and how random effects drive events in systems. In telecommunications he has worked on systems to optimise data packet queueing at nodes. Peter's work has also helped engineers to design better manufacturing production lines by considering the probability of breakdowns and other random effects.

"Solving a problem is satisfying. But beyond the self-satisfaction, from the point of understanding the world, applied maths can have a great impact."

Peter has recently been working to help manage healthcare patients, a prospect that he finds very exciting.

"Clinical medicine is arguably the fastest-developing science, but patient management systems are really out of the ark. Any other enterprise that managed its resources like hospitals tend to would be out of business," said Peter.

Peter and colleagues from Canada and New Zealand have developed a queueing protocol for triage systems. Patients are categorised and then accumulate priority points over time at different rates so doctors can more effectively manage who gets attention next.

Peter says says he is inspired to see what his PhD students are tackling.

"I firmly believe that people who can think analytically and are trained in maths are going to make great contributions to society," said Peter.

Some of my students are tremendously talented. Way more talented than me. Seeing what they do gives me the biggest thrill that I ever get in my professional life.

When asked what his career advice is for others, Peter doesn't hesitate: "Take every opportunity, have fun and stay positive."