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A day in the life of a maths e-learning officer

My wife’s school recently sent round a form with questions about “a day in the life” of people working in STEM careers, to show to their year 6 children. My job involves the M in STEM, so I agreed to have a go at describing my day.

I quite enjoyed describing about what I do, so I’ve decided to reproduce my answers here. Enjoy!

About You

Your Name: Christian Lawson-Perfect

Your Age: 31

Your Work Place: Newcastle University

Your Job Title: Mathematician / e-learning officer (officially it’s only the second one of those two, but that’s a hopelessly vague title; ‘mathematician’ gets you much closer to imagining what I do all day)

Your route to the job

Secondary school: Dame Allan’s. GCSE Maths, Statistics, French, German, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, IT, History. (I hope they don’t notice I didn’t do GCSE English!)

College: Dame Allan’s (again. Sorry, I went to one of those posh schools.) A-Level Maths, Further Maths, French, Physics.

Apprenticeship: None.

University: Newcastle University. Master’s degree in Mathematics and Statistics.

First Job: Newcastle University. Tutor and e-learning officer.

Top tip

Are there any tips you would give someone who wants a career in your field?

Maths is much more about persistence than natural ability – everybody gets stuck, and it’s much more than just doing sums – in fact, some of us are hopeless at doing actual calculations. Doing puzzles and playing games is the best way to develop your thinking skills.

Good thing/bad thing

Best thing about your job?

I get to solve interesting maths problems, and travel around the world to meet people who use the software I make.

Not-so-good thing about your job?

Like all jobs, there are forms to fill in and meetings to attend. On busy days when I’m interrupted a lot, it makes it hard to get any good maths done.

Please supply up to 5 photos and accompanying text which summarise a typical day in your job

My whiteboard has my to-do list on it, and some working-out for maths problems I’ve been working on.

My job involves a lot of programming. I make a system which lets students do their homework online. I have to solve lots of maths problems to make it work.

I work with other lecturers to come up with homework questions for their students. I often have to look up theorems in books. I get through a lot of paper with my working-out!

Juggling helps me think. I couldn’t do it at all at first, but I tried it for 5 minutes each morning and now I’m pretty good, though I can’t do any tricks yet! Often the best way to solve a hard problem is to do something else entirely, like going for a walk or tidying my desk.

I regularly travel to other universities to present my work. That means I have to stand up and talk to rooms full of people I don’t know about something I find interesting – something I’ve always enjoyed. Recently I’ve given talks in Edinburgh, Norway, and South Africa.

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