In News, Stories

Dr Scott Lindstrom

As a student – Optimise 2018

As a lecturer – Summer School 2023, ACE Network 2022/24

What is your role in the Mathematical Sciences?

I am a lecturer at Centre for Optimisation and Decision Science (Curtin University). In plain speak, I build the maths that allow computers to solve important problems in machine learning, data science, and engineering. I am keen to prompt students to think about how our mathematical understanding obliges us to inform the public discourse as it pertains to the use of these tools. For example, if we understand the mathematics of image “denoising,” then we can correctly advise that “denoised” images should not serve as evidence in courts of law. I research in the same way that I learn and teach: by building and visualizing models of problems in order to understand them better. Images from my research have appeared in various art showcases, and received accolades.


How did participating as a Lecturer in various AMSI programs support your career trajectory?

As a Lecturer of AMSI programs, the examples, activities, notes, and lectures I have created for my AMSI courses serve as a comprehensive set of tools that my honours and graduate students use for building understanding in our field. As an example, an application from my recent 2023 AMSI Summer School course served as the impetus for my honours student, Andrew Calcan’s, bachelor’s project. Our joint paper, which he led the charge on, has just appeared in the Q1 journal AIMS Mathematics.

What inspired you to return to AMSI as a Lecturer for Summer School?

I am trying to parse the intent of this question. I did not attend AMSI Summer School as a student, so I did not “return” in this sense. However, I did participate in AMSI Optimise conference as a student, and I had taught an AMSI ACE course prior to lecturing for AMSI Summer School, so I “returned” in that sense.

AMSI Summer School is like no other event in Australian mathematics. Where else do I have a chance to work with students from all over the country who have come to one place because they really want to learn my research area? Knowing that the students would be highly motivated really pushed me to build the best curriculum and models of my research. And when students see a lecturer really bringing their A-game, the students recognize and respond to that. Their insights and curiosity really make AMSI Summer School a great time, for themselves and for the instructors.

And personally, I always enjoy jointly lectured units more than lecturing by myself. Limiting myself to half the lectures forces me to distil my content to what is most important and will be the most eye-opening for the participants. And working with Dr. Bui is especially exciting, because she works on interesting topics and devotes great care to her content. When you work with someone like that, you can learn a lot from each other.

AMSI Year 12 report card (releasing soon) mentions that participation in calculus-based mathematics has plummeted to an all-time low in the last three years. What are some words of advice you would give high school students to encourage them to continue mathematics study?

I almost never took calculus. My bachelor’s degree is actually in psychology. For a while, I thought I was done with math classes. But a happy accident changed all that. About halfway through my studies, an administrative error blocked me from enrolling in the classes I needed, and those classes filled to capacity before the problem was rectified. This was before President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act, and, in those days (in the USA), I needed to either maintain a full course load or lose my health insurance coverage. So I flipped through the course catalogue until my eye fell on Calculus.

I called my dad. Hey Dad, calculus is one of those things you’re supposed to learn to be a well-rounded person, right?

Dad said I would not regret it. He was right.

I discovered I enjoyed working with other students to solve problems. I am a people person, and working with others has always been very important to me. I never had realized before that mathematics can be a very social activity. I signed up for maths class after maths class. A few years after graduating, a quarter-life direction change brought me back to study maths for a career.

Not everyone will do a full maths degree. But whatever your motivations, mathematical and statistical literacy will give you a bigger lens. For health care providers, statistical literacy can be the difference between interpreting tests correctly and missing critical diagnoses.

For me, it was scary to come back to school, being older and having not taken a maths class in years. I struggled and felt like the underdog for about a year and a half. I didn’t always succeed at first. Bear Grylls puts it well: Life doesn’t reward the naturally clever or strong, but those who can learn to fight and work hard and never quit. You will only live one time. Don’t you kind of want to challenge yourself?

What do you hope for the future of mathematics in a tech-evolving society?

The Mythbuster Adam Savage says that one of the most powerful things a teacher ever said to him was: I don’t know. In an age where we are all on social media and being fed a steady algorithm-driven diet of what beliefs are “correct” among our peers, we’ve all become rather uncomfortable with this phrase. We prefer a comfortable false simplicity to a real complexity. The simplicity allows us to neatly categorize the good people and the problem people, and our “answers” all-too-often amount to just punishing the problem people.

Maths may be one of the last places left where we are all reasonably comfortable admitting our understanding is incomplete. Where we can comfortably say: I’m working on understanding that better. My hope is that we can take this lesson from maths, and somehow manage to relearn it about other things as well. Maybe we’ll be a little quicker to listen, a little slower to judge, and a little more patient with each other. And with ourselves.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of work? 

I enjoy reading and writing high fantasy, playing music, and hiking (aka bushwalking), mountain climbing.


This interview is part of our AMSI alumni Series. If you’re an AMSI alumni, we would love to hear what you have been up to! Tag us in your posts on LinkedIn and X @DiscoverAMSI so we can share your achievements. Please contact us if you would like to be featured in our monthly newsletter:


Recent Posts