Dinner with the East Midlands Branch

On Saturday night I attended the IMA East Midlands Branch dinner. This was in Ruddington in Nottinghamshire, just a couple of miles from where I live. By contrast, others had travelled from around the region to attend: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, one chap had travelled from Alford in Lincolnshire, which must be a good couple of hours or more drive.

I have been on the Branch committee for the East Midlands Branch for about a year now. The meal was nice and it was good to see this active Branch working well.

Sunny, spring day in Oxford

Oxford Mathematical Institute
Last week I visited the Mathematical Institute at Oxford (pictured above). Last year, before my employment, the IMA gave a grant to the student mathematical society, the Invariants. Recently the committee for this changed and the new committee will take the Invariants through for the next year so it was useful to visit and meet them. I had, I think, a very useful chat with the committee. I also met some interesting IMA members and other members of staff and visited the careers service (pictured below, with the obligatory picture of bikes in Oxford!).

Oxford Careers Service bikes

Cricketing at Trent Bridge

On Wednesday evening I attended a talk by Frank Duckworth on the Duckworth-Lewis method for helping decide the outcome of one day cricket matches where play is interrupted, which has now been used for over 10 years. This took place in the Long Room at Trent Bridge cricket ground. I am not particularly a follower of cricket but the talk was interesting nonetheless. I found Frank to be an engaging story teller and he found a suitable balance between cricket, mathematics and anecdote. He demonstrated using simple mathematical examples the absurdity of the methods in use in the 80s and early 90s and used audience participation to demonstrate the relative ease with which the D-L method could be applied. Still, he was candid about situations where D-L is less than satisfactory and some more recent work to correct for this.

For the cricket fans there was some cricket trivia and the room was steeped in history; the walls were decorated with portraits, photographs and lists of exemplary performances at Trent Bridge. For the mathematicians in the audience, he even flashed up a partial derivative! Frank called the material mathematical though the meeting Chair, Neville Davies, was keen to point out the statistics behind the parameters for D-L and the data analysis in determining how well it is working. A well rounded applied mathematics and statistics problem, I think.

The talk was organised by the local branch of the Royal Statistical Society. More information on the Duckworth-Lewis method is available on the BBC website which has a brief history of Duckworth-Lewis and a simple explanation of the method.

An historic meeting

Woke with a rather large hangover in a hall of residence room, rushed late to a lecture theatre and listened to a chap give a talk I didn’t fully understand… this is certainly bringing back memories!

I’m on the train now going home from Manchester having spent the last two days at the 50th British Applied Mathematics Colloquium (BAMC). The conference will continue for another two days but I have to be back in Nottingham.

I have enjoyed being at the BAMC and have met a lot of people. I tried to go to a variety of talks and didn’t fully understand any of them (I wasn’t the target audience for any of them and in a 20 minute talk there’s an awful lot of need for the word “obviously”). But it is good to get a sense of how vibrant applied mathematics is as a subject (8 talks in parallel every 25 minutes 6 times a half day plus plenaries is an awful lot of content!) and always good to meet practitioners of the art.

Also attached to the BAMC was a schools outreach event called “Meet the Mathematicians” and I was lucky enough to sit in on talks by Chris Budd and David Broomhead. Around 50 local sixth form students attended and seemed to respond well to the talks I attended. There was a photo taken with the students just starting out on their careers and participants from the original BAMC 50 years ago. I don’t know if the outreach day is going to be a new BAMC tradition but it seems a good idea.

Incidentally, yesterday when I was on the train and posted my report to Mathematics Today April there was a chap sat opposite me. He seemed perfectly nice and we exchanged pleasantries a little but I really thought little of it. Later, he introduced himself to me at the BAMC! He is John Watson and he attended the first few BTMC (as BAMC was then called) meetings in the late 50s and early 60s. He was one of several people who were involved at the start invited to the 50th anniversary conference. So there was a missed opportunity for me!

Missing stickers

Sticker: I'm a member of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications www.ima.org.uk - Are you?I designed a sticker to go out with Mathematics Today April declaring “I’m a member of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications – Are you?” Unfortunately, due to an error the sticker was not included as intended in Mathematics Today April but instead we will be sending it out next week with a note of apology. IMA HQ and myself have received a good number of emails and phone calls about this; it is really gratifying to know that people are reading Mathematics Today and that there is a real interest in the stickers (though an unfortunate way to have to find out!). One emailer suggested it may be an April Fools Joke!

Mathematics Today April: University Liaison Officer’s Report

The following report is my report in Mathematics Today April.


I am newly employed by the IMA as University Liaison Officer to further the aims of the University Liaison initiative. The aims of this are to increase membership (particularly amongst undergraduates, postgraduates and recent graduates), to raise awareness of the IMA and its work among university students and recent graduates and to increase engagement of students with mathematics through the IMA.

Mathematics graduates will benefit from membership of the IMA, and mathematics itself will benefit from the strong professional body increased membership will allow.

I am interested to hear from members who have views on this project and am particularly keen to hear from those who feel they have something to contribute to this work by email to peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk.

Readers may be aware from the previous Mathematics Today that this work is supported by a bequest from Professor Clement Workman Jones, for which the IMA is very grateful.

As part of this work I am aiming to raise awareness of existence of the IMA (an awareness which among undergraduate students tends to be quite wanting) through recreational mathematics and careers events operated by university mathematical societies. These are usually student-run groups in universities with social and subject based components. [If you are in contact with such a group and they would like to be involved please contact me on peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk].

I am looking to produce a list of speakers who are willing, in principle, to speak to students in universities on recreational mathematics or mathematics careers topics. I would like to have a list of speakers, the topic(s) on which they are willing to speak and the areas of the country within which they are willing to travel to do so. Individual mathematical societies will then contact speakers directly to arrange specific events.

Before you dismiss yourself out of hand I would encourage you to think again! It is my experience that there are many mathematicians doing interesting work who are able to talk in an engaging way, but who say simply, “my work wouldn’t be of interest.” I would encourage you to imagine yourself as an undergraduate student studying mathematics but with little idea where it could take you and wonder how such a student might react to the story of some problem you have solved using mathematics or an overview of an area of advanced work barely touched on in their studies. If you speak in schools I would encourage you to consider that an undergraduate at 19 is not that different from a school student at 18 and topics which interest the latter would likely interest the former. And finally I would certainly encourage postgraduate students to hone their presentation skills by practising a talk about their research topic on local undergraduates (under an IMA banner, of course!).

I think as a speaker you will get a lot out of offering to speak at such events and you will be helping raise awareness of the IMA amongst university students, which will benefit the IMA greatly. If you are willing to be on this list of willing-in-principle speakers or have further questions, please contact me on peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk.

Another aspect of raising awareness is the sticker you have hopefully received with your copy of Mathematics Today. I strongly encourage all members to display their sticker somewhere potential members will see it and that way you will be giving the IMA a presence at your organisation and helping this work greatly.

Activities Jan-Feb 2008

In January I visited HQ at Catherine Richards House in Southend-on-sea and met the Secretariat. I have attended various IMA meetings including Executive Board, the annual Branch representatives meeting and I have met with the University Liaison steering group.

I have visited the Universities of Manchester and Greenwich and had productive meetings with staff and students at both. I have met representatives of all the Branches except the Scottish Branch so far, at the Branch Representatives Meeting in London and at Branch events.

Representatives of University Mathematical Societies (RUMS)

University mathematical societies interested in engaging with this work are invited to nominate a member to join a group Representatives of University Mathematical Societies (RUMS), presently an email group, intended to improve communication between societies and with the University Liaison project. Contact me for more information on peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk.

Student page on IMA website

Some content has been collected that is hopefully of relevance to students on a new Student page on the IMA website. This is intended to be a main point of communication by this project and provides links to relevant areas of the IMA site and other resources from this project.

This provides links to the IMA Facebook group, a page on YouTube where student- and member-contributed videos will be placed and my blog.

Visit this at: www.ima.org.uk/student

Student section of Mathematics Today

I hope you will be pleased to see that what follows this report is a new feature for Mathematics Today, the Student Section. For this, Noel-Ann Bradshaw has written an entertaining piece on the activities of the mathematical society, MathSoc at the University of Greenwich. I hope this will be of interest.

Life, Logic and so on

While in Bristol I took the opportunity to visit the Watershed Centre and listen to a talk by Tim Harford. I know Tim as the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s More or Less but he is a writer and columist. In his latest book, the Logic of Life, he talks about the hidden economic logic in everyday life.

Watershed Centre
One of the interesting titbits I took away from this was an experiment in which volunteers were asked to fill in a survey (arbitrarily) and then offered a reward; the choice of a chocolate bar or a piece of fruit. One group were offered the choice to take away now, while another were told their reward would be brought to them in a week’s time. The group who were offered a reward now tended to choose the chocolate bar; while the group who were told they would receive their reward in a week tended to go for the fruit. After a week, when the researchers arrived to give them their reward they were given the option to change their choice, and a significant number changed to opt for the chocolate bar.

The conclusion, then, is that were are very good at deciding to make the correct choice in a week but tend to make bad decisions in the hear and now. Tim believes this explains some behaviour in dieting, quiting smoking, etc. As a chap who had packed an apple in his bag that morning but had subsequently bought a chocolate brownie, this has certainly stuck with me.

This reminded me of my own way of taking decisions. I have for a few years now always tried to take decisions as if I were not the one who has to follow through the consequences. I will think “is this the right thing to do?” or “shall I ask my assistant to do this?” If the answer is yes, as I don’t have an assistant I will have to do it myself. I find I tend to take better decisions when I abstract away the actual doing of the task. This came about when I realised people tend to give better advice than they themselves employ, and is of course a laziness-avoidance measure as well.