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PhD researcher wins award from Alan Turing Institute

Alliance MBS PhD researcher Thu Trang Dinh has been recognised by one of the most prestigious organisations in data science.

Thu recently attended a Data Study group organised by The Alan Turing Institute in London, and at the end of an intensive three-week exercise was awarded a Learning Machine Award which recognizes individuals who absorb new skills, tackle unfamiliar methods, and are not afraid to try new techniques.


The study groups attract students from across the UK and are run as intensive 'collaborative hackathons' where researchers are set specific challenges and work together on real-world problems.

Thu’s group was set a challenge by the UK Dementia Research Institute which is attempting to predict the functional relationship between DNA sequence and epigenetic state.

In particular it is focusing on exploiting experimental data to validate whether state-of-the-art models can pay attention to the right DNA sequence variants, and eventually aims to generate predictions for the effects of Alzheimer’s associated genetic variants on cell-type specific gene regulatory mechanisms.

Because of COVID-19 the group carried out all the research remotely, which Thu admits added to the challenge.

She said: “My study is centred on data science and I don’t have a biology background at all, but others in the group did have a background in this area which made it a really interesting multi-disciplinary project to work on. Being set just three weeks to complete the task gave the project a real sense of urgency and it was an unforgettable experience, despite the fact that we had to work remotely from one another.”

Machine learning

Thu’s own PhD project at AMBS is looking at how machine learning methods can help predict exchange rate movements.

As she explained: “Predicting and forecasting accurate exchange rates can bring a host of benefits for policymakers and any business that trades abroad, and I am currently working on a machine learning predictive model that incorporates many different sources of information. Banks and financial institutions are today starting to use machine learning much more widely and this is just one example of the benefits it can bring.”

Thu, who is from Vietnam, was attracted to study at AMBS because of the work of the School’s globally respected Management Sciences group where several members are also fellows of The Alan Turing Institute.

Real-world settings

As she added: “I was particularly attracted and impressed by the work of Professor Julia Handl and Dr. Luis Ospina-Forero who would become my co-supervisors for my PhD and who I believed would provide me with valuable guidance for my research. Also, what I really liked about Manchester’s work was that the research was all about application and how we can apply the complex science of machine learning into real-world settings.”

Julia Handl, Professor in Decision Sciences at AMBS, said: “Our affiliation with the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s National Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, provides wonderful opportunities for our PhD students at AMBS and the Data Study groups are just one example of this. Luis and I were immensely pleased that Thu managed to secure a place in the most recent Data Study group, and that she clearly made the most out of this experience.”

Find out more about the Data Study groups at the Alan Turing Institute