18 February 2021 | Story ANDRE DAMONS | Photo Supplied
Prof Maxim Finkelstein, distinguished Professor at the Department of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science at the UFS has become the only researcher with an A1-rating in South Africa (awarded by NRF) in Probability, Statistics and Operations Research.

A professor in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) has become the only researcher with an A1-rating in Probability, Statistics and Operations Research in South Africa after being awarded this prestigious rating by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

This is the second time Prof Maxim Finkelstein, the distinguished Professor at the Department of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, has been awarded with an A-rating. The first was in 2015.

The goal is to produce quality research

According to Prof Finkelstein, the rating should not be a goal as such for a researcher but should produce a quality research that is recognised by peers and that, above all, brings a real satisfaction in life. Prof Finkelstein says: “The rating is just a consequence of what one, as a researcher, has achieved in the past eight years and, actually, during the whole professional life as well. South Africa is the only country in the world that is able to perform this rigorous internationally sound rating process for individual researchers. ‘Scientifically large’ countries just cannot do it, technically.”

Prof Finkelstein’s area of expertise is the modelling of random events and quantifying probabilities of their occurrences. He explains: “For instance, in industry, people are interested in probabilities that a machine or process or mission will accomplish its task without failure or accident. In order to assess the probabilities of interest, one must have an adequate mathematical/stochastic model that should be properly developed. 

“Thus, I am developing such models that can be rather advanced because they should take into account numerous factors, e.g., that the object is operating in a random environment, that its structure could change, that there can be human errors affecting the outcome, that an object interacts with other objects, etc. This is usually done in the framework of mathematical reliability theory that considers operation of technical devices.” 

The only A-rating at NAS

“I am quite excited to get the A-rating for the second time, especially because it is the only A-rating in Probability, Statistics and Operations Research in South Africa. It is also the only A-rating at our Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

“The fact that it is an A1 and not A2, as previously, does not, in fact, mean too much to me. What matters really is that it is the A-category defined by the reviewers’ opinions that the applicant is a world leader in his discipline,” says Prof Finkelstein.

During his numerous visits as a research professor to the Max Planck Institute of Demographic Research in Germany, he jointly with the colleagues from this institute, were applying the developed stochastic approaches to modelling lifespans of organisms as well. 

One of Prof Finkelstein’s evolving interests is in the area of healthcare engineering when, for instance, monitoring the key health parameters of a patient, some optimal cost-wise decisions can be made on preventive treatments and interventions. 

“I want also to stress that, in general, international collaboration is very important for emerging and established researchers, especially in ‘remote’ South Africa, although nowadays the term ‘remote’ is obviously outdated,” says Prof Finkelstein.

He also collaborates with numerous colleagues around the globe. Apart from the visiting position in the Max Planck Institute he held for many years, Prof Finkelstein regularly visits the ITMO University in St Petersburg, Russia, and is also now establishing a Visiting Professor position at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

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