Lancaster statistics student scoops prestigious international early-career writing award

Robyn Goldsmith
Robyn Goldsmith

From Squid Game to Parasite, a fascination with Korean popular culture helped inspire a Lancaster University statistician to pen a prize-winning article.

Robyn Goldsmith, a PhD student at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Statistics and Operational Research with Industry (STOR-i), has been chosen as the winner of the 2023 Statistical Excellence Award for Early-Career Writing.

Jointly organised by Significance magazine and the Young Statisticians Section of the Royal Statistical Society, the Statistical Excellence Award for Early-Career Writing recognises effective communication of data and statistics and highlights early-career statisticians or data scientists with a talent for telling data-driven stories in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.

Finalists are invited to present their work at the Royal Statistical Society conference and the winning article is published in Significance magazine.

The international competition is open to anyone currently studying for a first degree, Master’s or PhD in statistics, data science or related subjects or recent graduates.

A keen writer of short stories and plays since she was a teenager, Robyn’s ‘Surfing the Korean Wave’ story focuses on Korean popular culture, something she was introduced to by a friend from the Asian country.

“My article tells the statistical story behind the cultural phenomenon, Hallyu - known in English as the Korean Wave,” she said. “From Netflix’s most watched TV show of 2021, Squid Game, to Oscar winning film Parasite to record-breaking pop groups like BTS and BLACKPINK and the TikTok famous Beauty of Joseon sunscreen, the Korean Wave describes the rapid global popularity of Korean cultural exports.

“I was swept up in the Korean Wave after learning a lot about Korean culture from my friend. She introduced me to TV dramas from her homeland during the first COVID-19 lockdown and I was blown away by the diversity and depth of the storytelling and much-needed escapism! I quickly became obsessed and was excitedly recommending my favourites to everyone I knew. Soon after, I became captivated by the Korean wave, noticing how K-pop tracks had ascended UK charts, K-dramas were dominating Netflix’s recommendations and that creatives like Bong-Joon Ho had become global household names.”

As well as being a fan of Korean popular culture herself, Robyn was also inspired after discovering that the rise of Korean popular culture was in part due to a decision by the country’s leaders to invest in their cultural sector, which was informed by statistical economic data.

“I learnt that the origins of the Korean wave boil down to one fact, the number of Hyundai cars needed to make the same amount of money as the Hollywood blockbuster Jurassic Park, she said. “On the brink of the Asian financial crisis, this number motivated the President to invest in industries of culture. As a mathematician, the idea that a simple statistic could start a cultural phenomenon was fascinating! Inspired by this, I wanted to explore the Korean wave from a statistical point of view and set out to uncover the numerical story of how K-content has deservedly amassed millions of loyal fans from across the globe.”

“I modelled the aspects of word-of-mouth and online hype driving the Korean Wave to find out how widely passion for Korean culture could spread,” she said. “Looking more closely at K-pop and K-dramas, two of the biggest Korean cultural industries, I aimed to find out whether the K-wave fandom will continue to grow or if we would see a turn of the tide.

“I have admired this competition and entries from previous finalists for a long time. This competition gives early-career scientific writers an amazing opportunity to be creative and to have their work read by both statisticians, data scientists and non-experts. Knowing the high standard of articles this competition attracts, I was nervous to enter but I had so much fun writing that once it started to take shape I thought, “Okay, let’s just go for it!”

Anna Britten, Editor of Significance Magazine, said: “We found Robyn’s article “Surfing the Korean wave” to be both well-written and relevant. In exploring the astonishing rise in global popularity of Korean culture - from pop music to cosmetics - and, in stylish and engaging prose, audaciously implying a parallel with the spread of the Covid-19 virus, Robyn has crafted the perfect Significance article and is a worthy winner of this year’s contest.”

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