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Applied math program produces first graduate, success story

February 26, 2009

When Anuj Mubayi received his degree in December of last year, he became the first graduate of ASU’s doctoral program in Applied Mathematics for the Life and Social Sciences. Today, as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Texas in Arlington, Anuj is poised to make a positive impact on the world. Anuj recently granted an interview to staff in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Human Evolution and Social Change to discuss his work and how his transdisciplinary training prepared him for researching “real world” problems.

SHESC: What interested you about the doctorate in Applied Mathematics for the Life and Social Science program?

AM: I entered the program from the department of mathematics. At the time, I thought I knew what research in applied mathematics was, but after getting hands-on experience in cutting-edge research under the guidance of the program’s interdisciplinary faculty, my thinking on the subject shifted dramatically. In a sense, it opened my eyes, broadening my depth and understanding of the scientific linkages of applied math to real world problems. The program has unveiled for me a different but truer meaning of applied mathematical research.

SHESC: What was the best part of the program?

AM: Part of the beauty of the program is that a student has the freedom to choose courses from different departments. The participating faculty come from a wide range of disciplines—mathematics, statistics, life sciences, anthropology, global health, computer science—and have a lot of experience working on interdisciplinary projects. This program has not only made me stronger in mathematics, but also in biological and social sciences. With the support of the faculty, I was able to secure an internship at the Center for Non-Linear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The program supported me financially to participate in and present my research at various national and international conferences and workshops and provided opportunities to network and collaborate with researchers from institutions around the world. In addition, the program regularly invites world-renowned researchers, such as professors Fred Brauer, Karl Hadeler, Tom Banks and Zhilan Feng, to give talks and seminars. In my opinion, this is a very research-based and career-oriented program that has made me a highly competitive candidate for jobs in my field of interest. Upon completing my Ph.D. in December of 2008, I had three solid postdoctoral offers, which is a direct result of the preparation from my program.

SHESC: Tell us about your doctoral thesis.

AM: The title of my thesis is “The Role of Environmental Context in the Dynamics and Control of Alcohol Use.” My interest in this problem began during the second year of my doctoral program when I joined my advisors, Drs. Carlos Castillo-Chavez and Priscilla Greenwood, in a project led by the Alcohol Prevention Research Center at Berkeley. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded this project. I regularly participated in the workshop that included theoreticians and practitioners from Berkeley and College Station in the School of Public Health at Texas A & M University. The Alcohol Prevention Research Center provided support and data on alcohol drinking.

This project had a major research goal of increasing our understanding of alcohol drinking dynamics and identifying interventions that can influence the existing drinking culture in communities. The focus of my research has been on the effect of social influences and social contexts on drinking patterns of at risk populations. I studied mathematical models on drinking dynamics and, in the process, learned and used tools that include differential equations, stochastic processes, parameter estimation, sensitivity analysis and statistical methods. The modeling of social processes and interactions that enable alcohol-related problems to spread through communities and their evolution in the presence of distinct environments became a central aspect of my work. We addressed issues related to the impact of specific interventions on drinking patterns.

SHESC: What are you working on now?

AM: I am working on a research project awarded to Dr. Christopher Kribs-Zaleta by the Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program called “Cross-immunity and geographical invasion in the transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi.” In my dissertation, I used deterministic and stochastic modeling techniques to study social and public health problems. In my postdoc, I am extending the methodology by using spatial temporal models to study the spread of Chagas Disease in wildlife.

SHESC: Any advice for students considering the program?

AM: Be ready to always learn new ideas, concepts and techniques. It could be something that you are not using currently or you think is not in your area, but you still want to know about it. Not all social and biological problems can be solved with the same tool.

For more information on the Applied Mathematics for the Life and Social Sciences program, contact Georgianna Miller, graduate academic success specialist in the School of Human Evolution and Social Sciences, at (480) 965-2558 or

Jodi Guyot,
(480) 727-8739
School of Human Evolution and Social Change