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Mathematics Today April: University Liaison Officer’s Report

Graduate Recruitment Scheme

In the previous issue of Mathematics Today I reported some results on the uptake of IMA Prizes. This time I turn my attention to the more general graduate recruitment picture. Each year the IMA sends out Graduate Recruitment packs, essentially a letter of introduction to the IMA and an application form at AMIMA grade. Contact is made with universities as soon as possible after Christmas to discover how many graduates the university expects to have in the current year. The appropriate number of packs are then sent to universities to be distributed. What happens next is of some interest to me.

Last year I conducted a survey of IMA Representatives to attempt to discover the process of the Graduate Recruitment Exercise once it extends beyond Catherine Richards House and how we might improve its effectiveness. I would like to express here my gratitude to the 27 respondents (a 36% response rate). One issue that had been raised verbally with me and with the Membership Department is the timing of arrival of the Graduate Recruitment packs. In the past these have often arrived over the Easter break. At some universities, after Easter the students only have revision and exams and are rarely in contact with staff to receive the packs. In my survey 20 people answered the question “Please rate the timing of the arrival of the graduate recruitment packs”. Only five of these regarded the packs as arriving “too late” and 15 reported the timing was “just right”. Nevertheless, the Membership Department are working to ensure the packs are sent out prior to Easter.

Another, more problematic issue may be that of how to get the packs to the students. When I graduated from the University of Nottingham I received a letter from Dr. Stephen Hibberd suggesting I join the IMA which accompanied the graduate pack. I have since discovered that Stephen (uniquely) takes it upon himself to write an alternative covering letter which contains similar content to the IMA letter but is written by a known, local academic and is on Nottingham headed paper. This gives an additional legitimacy and impact to the graduate recruitment pack that I think is advantageous although obviously the administrative burden this places on the department could be considerable and we cannot expect that departments will devote resources to this. Under data protection law we cannot simply receive a list of students and do the administration at the IMA end so we are reliant on the generosity of departments.

In my survey I asked “How do you distribute the packs to students?” and there were 25 responses to this question. Five respondents send the packs to students through the post; four of these to the home address, which seems in many ways to be the best possible outcome for the IMA. Two respondents include the packs in existing graduate or leaver packs that are issued to students. Where such packs exist, this would seem to be an efficient yet effective solution. A further five respondents send the packs to students via departmental pigeon holes. I do not know how effective this will be; my own memory is not of checking my undergraduate maths pigeonhole frequently. Nine universities hand packs to students in lectures. This approach has been described to me as problematic since it is not usual for all final year students to be present in a single class. With overlap between module choices a lot of departments find they are not sure which students have been given a pack. The final four respondents leave the packs in a common room or other area for the students to collect. With this option I am concerned that the packs may not be collected by students. However this is a method that takes the least department time and since we are relying on volunteer activity we are thankful for any attempt that can be made.

A strong comment that comes through from the survey responses and conversations with academic staff on this issue is that the most efficient and effective solution to this would be to have an email introduction to an online form. Sending an email around the students does not have such an administrative or cost burden (at either end) as does the distribution of physical packs and an online form is widely believed to be essential for modern students to participate. Also, such an electronic approach could be promoted through multiple channels whereas the printing of multiple forms for each student is not efficient. At present this option is not available to us and this is a shame. The IMA membership form is available via the IMA student webpage at www.ima.org.uk/student so students could be encouraged to join this way, although the form must still be printed and sent in by post.

Why am I so interested in what happens to the graduate recruitment packs? The final issue with the packs is that students/graduates tend to think “Who are these people?” and throw the pack in the recycling. I know I did. Looking at numbers, the IMA has sent out somewhere between 4,000-5,500 packs a year over the last 12 years (declining as student numbers have declined over this period). A decade ago in 1999 the number of packs resulting in applications was 4.1% of packs sent. I am not sure whether to regard 4.1% as an acceptable return for this kind of activity. Remember the graduate packs are not direct marketing for a company or product. Quite apart from any academic or social interest, this is about joining the only UK professional body for qualified and practicing mathematicians. I think this should be a natural sale for most graduates, even those whose academic interest lies with other learned societies.

Returning to the present, the 2008 data shows that 1.9% of packs were returned as applications for membership. Actually, the data over the period (table 1) shows this is not a fluke result but the figure has been this low since the early 2000s. Presumably there will be a year on year fluctuation but this seems to show a trend, with percentage of packs resulting in applications declining to around 50% of their value a decade ago. It is hard to say what may have caused this; the world is a different place than it was ten years ago and there are several obvious issues including the personal finances of new graduates. We can hope some will join later on in their careers.

1997

1998

1999

2000

Applications as % of number of packs sent

3.4%

3.9%

4.1%

3.0%

2001

2002

2003

2004

3.9%

2.9%

1.7%

1.9%

2005

2006

2007

2008

1.5%

1.9%

1.8%

1.9%

Table 1 – Number of applications as percentage of graduate recruitment packs sent

I see it as my main activity in practice to increase the chances that students will have heard of the IMA and perhaps even know a little of its work and the benefits of membership when they receive the graduate recruitment pack so that pack is more effective. I am interested in what happens to the graduate recruitment packs because the whole premise of my work for the IMA is founded on the principle that we have an excellent system for offering new graduates the opportunity to join the Institute. Together we give them the opportunity; I must give them a motive! I hope you will share my concern over the return of graduate recruitment packs. If we continue to attract only around 1.9% of graduates per year (80 people in 2008) to join the ranks of our 5,000-strong membership, we can expect some troubling times ahead for the Institute. I hope you will join me in trying to ensure your students have heard of the IMA before they receive the packs and making sure that as many packs as possible actually reach the hands of your students this year.

Activities Jan-Feb 2009

January and February 2009 have been a very active period. I have had time over the winter to make contact with universities and student groups for the new academic year and the period at the start of the calendar year is key to engaging with them before the Easter holiday, exams and the long summer break. In consultation with my steering group I have decided to attend less IMA meetings such as Executive Board and use the time to engage more actively with students.

Part of my role is to give Clement W. Jones Lectures on careers and popular maths topics. I have given a careers talk at the following universities in January and February: Greenwich, Bristol, UWE, Brunel, Cardiff, Aberdeen, St. Andrews, Glasgow, Strathclyde, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh. In total around 400 students have seen this talk in this period as well as careers staff at 7 universities. All the careers staff I have spoken to have been supportive of what I have said in my talk and some have even said they have picked up some information they did not previously know on mathematics. This is excellent news as these people are on the front line of graduate careers advice so to help inform them of resources such as the Maths Careers website and IMA Careers Advice leaflet, as well as the existence of the IMA is a marvellous opportunity to reach a wide range of graduates. My work in engagement with careers advisors continues through liaison with Julie Hepburn of Cardiff University and Julie sent an email on my behalf in this period highlighting the work the IMA is doing in promoting good careers advice for mathematicians.

My travels in this period included a most enjoyable week in Scotland. While there I gave a talk to the Scottish Branch of the IMA which covered the background to the University Liaison initiative, the majority of the content from my careers talk and some of the methods I am using to engage with as many students as possible from a part time role. Although I didn’t have a lot of free time I did manage to take the opportunity to seek out the new statue of James Clerk Maxwell in Edinburgh (pictured).

I operated an IMA stall at a Maths & Stats careers event at the University of Plymouth with my usual assortment of mathematical puzzles and careers advice leaflets (pictured). I gave a talk on spin in ball games such as pool, golf and tennis followed by a chance to play these games on a Nintendo Wii at Greenwich. The opportunity to play doubles Wii Tennis on a large screen in a lecture theatre is a popular draw and I am grateful to the University of Greenwich for helping me trial this format. Last time in Mathematics Today Student Section we heard from Felix Rehren of the University of Birmingham Mathsoc about their plans to use an IMA University Liaison Grant to fund after-talk networking events and I attended the inaugural event following a talk by Dr. Christopher Sangwin drawn from his book with John Bryant, “How Round Is Your Circle?”

I visited my counterpart at the Institute of Physics (IOP), Mischa Stocklin, and we compared notes on engagement with students and younger members. This was a learning experience for both of us and I would like particularly to report Mischa’s appreciation of the work the IMA has done in encouraging our Younger Members Group and its activities.

As you read this, I will be entering a period of lowered activity as many students settle down to revision on their return from the Easter break. If you feel that your students would benefit from an IMA talk, either on careers or a popular maths topic, during the remainder of the academic year please get in touch. Not many universities have availability now before October so I will be looking to book engagements. I will also be interested in filling my calendar for the next academic year. You can email me at peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk.

You can find out more about my work on the University Liaison initiative by visiting the IMA Student page or reading my blog, both via: www.ima.org.uk/student. If you are even more interested in what I do you can also now follow me on Twitter and my Twitter updates are used to update my Facebook status so either follow me at twitter.com/peterrowlett or add me as a friend on Facebook.

One Response to “Mathematics Today April: University Liaison Officer’s Report”

  1. Tony Mann (Greenwich)

    The Wii tennis was great but I’m not sure about the doubles format because the best mathematician can be let down by their partner (as I was)

    Reply

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