Philip Gerlee, class of 2003 - Research Scientist

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What's your educational background?

Engineering physics here at Chalmers.

What made you apply to Chalmers in the first place?

I was choosing between Lund University and Chalmers, Lund was closer since I am from Helsingborg. In the end I choose Chalmers because I figured it had a better reputation. I don't how much I really thought about it, I sort of ended up here. Well, that's actually a common answer :)

What made you apply to CAS?

I think I got a little bit bored with physics, always looking at highly idealised systems, and at the same time I read a book about chaos theory which got me interested. Then they had this meeting where they introduced all the different master programmes, and CAS sounded really interesting. I also had an interest in biology, and the presenter of CAS talked about mathematical biology as well.

Do you have any particularly strong memories from your time at CAS?

I thought that the seminars which the students did together was good. I remember quite a few of them really well, which indicates it was good.

I heard that you also gave a guest seminar at the seminar course a few years ago, what was It about?

It was about this artificial life platform that I have been developing together with Torbjörn Lundh, a colleague at mathematical sciences. Basically it is a way to investigate the evolutionary dynamics of a system with agents that are engaged in a cross feeding. They take in food products, metabolites, which they degrade, i.e. extract energy from. Then they put them back into the environment so someone else can start feeding on them. This creates some interesting interactions between the agents, and we are looking at the dynamics of that. Urdar is the name of it (more on it further later in the interview).

 What did you learn at CAS and in what way have this been of use to you in your continued career?

The main things that I learned was about modeling, and how to model complex systems in particular. That has also been central to what I have been doing afterwards as well. I did my PhD in cancer modelling, which was individual based modelling of tumor growth, where you also have an evolutionary aspect. The cells mutate and they start to behave differently, and of course the most successful ones survive in the long run. What I have learned is to disassemble a system with many components, focus on the important mechanisms and to simulate it in a fairly simple way in order to understand its dynamics.


What advice would you give to a student wondering what master thesis to do?

I think that it is very important to do something which you are actually interested in. It is probably going to be a lot of work, and if it is not interesting it's going to be difficult, and you are going to struggle. Choosing something which you personally find interesting is definitely going to help.

You went on to University of Dundee after CAS - how come?

I was actually looking for PhD positions somewhere closer, but it was really tough that year when I graduated. I was also looking for positions in the US, but I didn't find anything there so finally I ended up in Scotland (Dundee). But it was a lucky coincident, it was a great place and I had a very good supervisor in Dr. Alexander Anderson.

What was your MSc thesis about?

My MSc thesis was about the genetic architecture of artificial life organisms. The idea is that you have this system called Avida, which is avaliable online, where you have these organisms which are computer programs written in an assembler-like code; just a list of instructions that are being executed. And when they are executed the programs replicate and spread in their artificial world. They are also beeing rewarded for performing simple computational functions. Our idea was to look at how information gets encoded into the genome of these artificial organisms. And of course it is really messy, that is the interesting bit, it is encoded by just random chance and selection. We tried to look at what we call stylistic measures of this code is structured, and look at how different parameters in the simulation will change that. For example if what will happen if you change the mutation rate, and so on. (See below for Philips master thesis in full length)

What are you doing today (as of Autumn 2013)? 

 I'm currently working at the Moffitt Cancer Center in the department of Integrated Mathematical Oncology as a Research Scientist. My work focuses on the evolution of drug resistance with the aim of elucidating the difference between different treatment strategies and drug combinations. I also aim to continue my work on the modelling of metastatic spread hopefully leading to an improved understanding of how micrometastatic lesions can be detected and treated.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to continue my work on cancer with the long-term goal of making mathematical modelling an integral part of cancer research. I think modelling and quantitative reasoning is the only way forward if we are to understand complex systems such as tumour growth.