Doctoral Thesis Defense of Melanie Fernández Pradier

Melanie Fernández Pradier, a PhD student in the Signal Processing Group of the University Carlos III de Madrid has defended his doctoral thesis titled “Bayesian Nonparametric Models for Data Exploration” on September, 15th

  • Title: “Bayesian Nonparametric Models for Data Exploration”
  • Advisor: Fernando Pérez-Cruz.
  • Event Date: Friday, September 15, 2017, 11:30 am.
  • Location: Salón de Grados (Padre Soler Building) Leganés Campus; Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.


Making sense out of data is one of the biggest challenges of our time. With the emergence of technologies such as the Internet, sensor networks or deep genome sequencing, a true data explosion has been unleashed that affects all fields of science and our everyday life. Recent breakthroughs, such as self-driven cars or champion-level Go player programs, have demonstrated the potential benefits from exploiting data, mostly in well-defined supervised tasks. However, we have barely started to actually explore and truly understand data.

In fact, data holds valuable information for answering most important questions for humanity: How does aging impact our physical capabilities? What are the underlying mechanisms of cancer? Which factors make countries wealthier than others? Most of these questions cannot be stated as well-defined supervised problems, and might benefit enormously from multidisciplinary research efforts involving easy-to-interpret models and rigorous data exploratory analyses. Efficient data exploration might lead to life-changing scientific discoveries, which can later be turned into a more impactful exploitation phase, to put forward more informed policy recommendations, decision-making systems, medical protocols or improved models for highly accurate predictions.

This thesis proposes tailored Bayesian nonparametric (BNP) models to solve specific data exploratory tasks across different scientific areas including sport sciences, cancer research, and economics. We resort to BNP approaches to facilitate the discovery of unexpected hidden patterns within data. BNP models place a prior distribution over an infinite-dimensional parameter space, which makes them particularly useful in probabilistic models where the number of hidden parameters is unknown a priori. Under this prior distribution, the posterior distribution of the hidden parameters given the data will assign high probability mass to those configurations that best explain the observations. Hence, inference over the hidden variables can be performed using standard Bayesian inference techniques, therefore avoiding expensive model selection steps.

This thesis is application-focused and highly multidisciplinary. More precisely, we propose an automatic grading system for sportive competitions to compare athletic performance regardless of age, gender and environmental aspects; we develop BNP models to perform genetic association and biomarker discovery in cancer research, either using genetic information and Electronic Health Records or clinical trial data; finally, we present a flexible infinite latent factor model of international trade data to understand the underlying economic structure of countries and their evolution over time.