Podcast Episode 16 – Chris Bailey, Cutty Sark Restoration

These are the show notes for episode 16 of the Travels in a Mathematical World Podcast. 16 is the only number of the form x^y=y^x with x and y as different integers, being both 2^4 and 4^2. More about the number 16 from Number Gossip.

I visited the University of Greenwich last summer and spoke with Professor Chris Bailey, who is working on the conservation of the Cutty Sark project. You can read more about the Cutty Sark at the Cutty Sark website. There is an article about Chris’ work on the Cutty Sark from the Independent, read “How Greenwich University is helping to rebuild the Cutty Sark“. You can read a good introduction with plenty of suggestions for further readings on the Wikipedia page for Reliability engineering.

You can find out more about my work with the IMA by reading this blog and visiting www.ima.org.uk/student.

Podcast: Episode 15 – Maths news with Sarah Shepherd

These are the show notes for episode 15 of the Travels in a Mathematical World Podcast . 15 is the number of letters in the words “uncopyrightable” and “dermatoglyphics”, which in English are the only two longest words there are without repeating a letter. This fact and more about the number 15 from Number Gossip.

This week on the podcast I met Sarah Shepherd, PhD student at the University of Nottingham and Editor of iSquared Magazine and we discussed some maths news. Links to all the articles we mentioned are below.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen has expressed concerned at the prospect of a prenatal test for autism, that this could affect . Read “Autism test ‘could hit maths skills'” from the BBC News website .

The government have launched a campaign which encourages people to improve their numeracy by playing darts. Read “Play darts to help improve your maths skills” from the Telegraph.

England’s Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) have said that interest and recruitment in teaching are up in the global economic crisis. Read “Downturn ‘boosts teacher numbers'” from the BBC.

The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics have released a collection of video clips on their website showing maths being used in work context, “Maths in Work“.

The BBC reported that some schools will being piloting a new “twinned” GCSE. Read “Maths piloted as ‘twinned’ GCSEs” from the BBC.

The New Scientist report on a study which has proposed a solution to the mystery of what happened to the Beagle 2 spacecraft. Read “Flaw may have sent Beagle 2 to a fiery doom” from the New Scientist.

Professor Martin Taylor has been awarded a knighthood in the New Year Honours List. Read “Honour for Royal Society luminary” from the BBC.

There is an interesting interview with the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy – described as “head cheerleader for British science” – in the Times. Read “News Review interview: Marcus Du Sautoy”.

There are two stories covered elsewhere on this blog on the benefits of being a mathematician and the benefits of professional membership.

KPMG claim that children who are bad at maths at school end up costing the taxpayer up to £2.4bn a year. Read “UK maths failures ‘cost £2.4bn'” from the BBC.

England pupils have risen in an international league table for mathematics, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Read “English pupils get better at maths and science – but enjoy them less” from the Guardian.

The charity Sense about Science have warned against celebrities misleading claims about science, including Mariah Carey, Delia Smith and Tom Cruise. Read “Stars ‘misleading’ about science” from the BBC.

Finally, I recommended those who are interested in more maths content read Plus Magazine – where I mentioned the story “Automated mathematics” and the careers interview with mathematician and actor Victoria Gould – and iSquared Magazine, where Sarah told us what was in the current issue of iSquared – articles on turing machines, Einstein’s theories of relativitity and a review of the BBC4 programme “The Story of Maths”, now out on DVD. I said university students ought to be receiving an email copy of articles from the IMA members publication Mathematics Today and if they weren’t they should email me.

You can find out more about my work with the IMA by reading this blog and visiting www.ima.org.uk/student.

Maths = A Good Job

I was pointed to a piece in the New York Times which says that being a mathematician is the best job in the U.S. A study evaluated 200 occupations against five criteria: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. Being a mathematician – a career path that the New York Times says provides a “steady stream of lucrative, low-stress jobs” – came top of the list, followed by Actuary and Statistician. So all of the top three are jobs for mathematics graduates.

Membership pays

I was pointed recently to a piece from the Times that claims membership of a professional body can provide great economic benefits. Specifically, a report by the Consultative Committee for Professional Management Organisations gives the estimated lifetime economic benefit of holding a professional qualification at £81,000 and being a member of a professional institute at £71,000 and pointed out the benefit of all this extra earning to the public purse at £53,000 additional tax revenues per institute member. Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, is quoted as saying: “Being professional pays. It is an excellent investment for individuals and for government.”

Mathematics Today February: University Liaison Officer’s Report

IMA Prize Winners

IMA Prizes are awarded in UK universities which offer mathematics degrees, at the discretion of the university. In 2008 I conducted a survey of Prize giving practice among IMA University Representatives (27 responses; a 37% rate). All respondents awarded Prizes on some measure of academic excellence (all 22 who answered that question), either overall mark, or mark in an individual exam, project or coursework. Besides being recognition of academic excellence, the Prize also includes free IMA membership for one year.

Now for the shocking news. Caroline Irwin, who many of you will know as Manager of the Membership Department, has put together some data for me on uptake of the free membership included with an IMA Prize and on the renewal rates of Prize Winners in their second year of membership. The numbers do not make comfortable reading. The number of Prize Winners claiming their free membership is down towards 40%. I find this very difficult to understand: the Prize Winner has the offer of free membership and all they have to do is fill out an application form! Further, the number of those Prize Winners claiming free membership who renew for the second year stands around one quarter. So six out of every ten IMA Prize Winners don’t join the IMA at all and nine out of ten IMA Prize Winners are not IMA members by the second year after receiving their award. Think about this: if you gave out IMA Prizes this year, it is very likely one of the two Prize Winners didn’t claim their free membership. Even if either did, it is very unlikely either of them will be an IMA member by 2010.

I was asked recently whether I think it is worthwhile for the IMA to continue to award Prizes, given the cost to the Institute and relatively poor results. I believe Prize Giving can be a valuable activity for the Prize Winners, universities and the IMA and I will try to explain why.

In November, I was welcomed at King’s College, London to attend the Prize Giving ceremony. I met one of the IMA Prize Winners, Janine Walker. It is not a criticism of King’s particularly, but I found Janine completely unaware of the IMA or of what she had won. I explained who the IMA are and the benefits of membership and she seemed enthusiastic about her award. I sincerely hope she went home, filled in the application form and is reading this article (Hello, Janine!). IMA Prizes are awarded at over 70 universities to, usually, two graduates at each. From the point of view of the IMA, this is a lot of Prizes to administer. However, if you consider there are around 4,500 graduates of mathematics each year, Janine can claim to be in a minority of around 3%. I hope she will claim proudly on her CV that she is an IMA Prize Winner and point out: “IMA Prizes are awarded based on academic excellence to around 3% of graduates each year.” This is a good way for her to put her head above the crowd. Since the Prize brings with it free IMA membership for one year, she can also claim to be a member of the IMA and thus committed to her ongoing development. I feel sure the claim to be an outstanding graduate with a commitment to professional development beyond the lecture theatre would be an enticing one for a prospective employer.

I believe the benefits of the free membership go beyond simple CV enhancement. I didn’t join the IMA on graduation for cost reasons (and lack of awareness) but I revisited this two years later and joined. Prize Winners are awarded a free year and this is a kick-start to membership not offered to most graduates. As a member, the Prize Winner can begin to tap into the networking, mathematical interest and career development opportunities which can bring value to a member for their whole career, if they choose to make the most of their membership. So I believe the power of the Prize as a gentle prod in the right direction should not be overlooked.

Besides the benefits to the individual Prize Winner, I believe Prizes can offer value to the universities that award them. Making students aware in the early stage of their degrees that awards are available for academic excellence and the benefits receiving such an award can have on their careers should help foster a culture of attainment. Indeed, respondents to my questionnaire have told me they value the IMA Prizes. As for the IMA, besides attracting Prize Winners to membership, being presented as a mark of excellence among the student population has to be good news in attracting all students and graduates to membership.

So what can we do to make sure everyone gets the most out of Prize Giving?

I think it is important that the general undergraduate population is aware of the IMA Prizes. Some respondents to my survey said that their university just prints a list of Prize Winners and sticks this on a notice board. I would like to see universities making a bit of a show of their Prize Winners. This is a genuinely worthwhile award if understood and used to its potential, both as recognition of achievement and as a fast-track introduction to the wider mathematical community offered by the IMA. If you work at a university where IMA Prizes are awarded in some ceremony (during graduation or a separate awards ceremony) and think it would be good to have an IMA representative in attendance please let me know and I will see what I can do (peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk). If I attend 70-odd Prize Giving ceremonies a year I will never have time to do the rest of my job, but I feel optimistic that we will be able to find a member who is willing to represent the IMA.

I think it is important also that we work to ensure Prize Winners are aware of the benefits of what they have won (and of the benefits of membership to new members generally). Like most things in life, IMA membership is more valuable the more you try to get something out of it. If you work in a university, try to impress on your students and graduates the value of IMA membership. Outside universities, remember when you meet young mathematicians to find out if they are members of the IMA. If they aren’t, they should join! If they are, they might need a little push to get involved with the activities of the Institute. The Younger Mathematicians Conferences are an excellent place for early career mathematicians to start and I am always pleased to meet Younger Members who have been encouraged by their employer to attend these (perhaps with payment of travel expenses). The 2009 conferences are on 16 May in Oxford and 14 November in Birmingham. More details are available on the IMA website and there is a link on the student page at www.ima.org.uk/student.

Activities Nov-Dec 2008

I visited London to attend the 9th Younger Mathematicians Conference. This was an enjoyable event as always and an excellent chance to catch up with early career mathematicians and students. A group of undergraduates from the Greenwich MathSoc (University Liaison Grant recipients) attended. The Conference heard from mathematicians working in mathematical finance and topics such as the maths of Google, the restoration of the Cutty Sark and much more. A conference report is being prepared for Mathematics Today so I will say no more.

As I mentioned above, I attended the IMA Prize Giving at King’s College, London. This was a separate event from graduation and involved an Awards Ceremony of 45 minutes in which a range of Prizes across Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics were awarded. This was followed by a wine and nibbles reception where I was able to meet one of the Prize Winners, Janine Walker (pictured) and her family.

You might remember that the University Liaison project received some of its funding from a bequest of £20,000 from Professor Clement W. Jones, a founder member of the Institute, in 2007. The IMA chose to use the funds from the bequest to promote the applications of mathematics to University Mathematical Societies and to help students to be part of the mathematics community throughout their careers. The University Liaison scheme was designed to feature a series of ‘Clement W. Jones Lectures’ to be delivered at University Mathematics Societies. In November I travelled to Newcastle and gave a Clement W. Jones Lecture on “Coding and Cryptography”. This was an evening event in which I spoke on the history of a few methods of encrypting and decrypting messages and then split the audience into groups, who attempted to decipher each others messages. Speaking with students afterwards, the event seemed to have been well received. This is a format I am able to offer at other universities that are interested and I will be developing further Clement W. Jones Lecture formats in the coming months.

The IMA East Midlands Branch runs evening talks of general mathematical interest very successfully but attendance by undergraduates is not usual. In December the IMA talk was at Leicester, where the Student Union Maths Society (S.U.M.S.) has recently been awarded a University Liaison Grant. I proposed to S.U.M.S. that they advertise the IMA Branch talk and they did so via a Facebook Event and other means. I am happy to report that S.U.M.S. members made up just over half the audience at “An Eulerian Journey” by Emma McCoy. You can find out what they thought of it in an article in the Student Section by Mark Gammon of S.U.M.S.

Later in December I attended the British Society for the History of Mathematics Christmas Meeting, “Maths in View.” This aimed to look at the ways in which maths and specifically the history of maths have been portrayed in different media such as television and film (and podcasts!). I gave a talk with Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich, who listeners will know presents a monthly Maths History piece for my podcast, Travels in a Mathematical World. Out talk covered my attempts to make the IMA more visible to students and Noel-Ann’s work writing and presenting the Maths History podcast episodes. You can download the podcast at www.travelsinamathematicalworld.co.uk.

Just before Christmas I visited Catherine Richards House, the IMA HQ in Southend-on-Sea for the Secretariat Christmas lunch. Despite working for the IMA this was only my second visit to HQ and the first for almost 12 months so it was good to see everybody and catch up. Also in December I had my regular University Liaison project meeting and personnel appraisal. I am happy to report both went well.

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.

Student Section

In the student section this time is the piece I have mentioned above from Mark Gammon of the University of Leicester on attending the IMA East Midlands Branch talk and a piece from Felix Rehren of the University of Birmingham Mathsoc on activities supported by their University Liaison Grant.

Careers talk at Greenwich

Yesterday I visited the University of Greenwich and gave a talk on mathematics careers. This was an enjoyable experience and seemed to go well. The format was that I was followed by a lecturer from Greenwich, Dr Mayur Patel, who gave a CV writing session. I think this format, combining a, hopefully, inspiring careers talk with a practical career management skills session was a brilliant idea. Noel-Ann Bradshaw has written a kind post over on the IMA Representatives of University Mathematical Societies blog, on the back of which I have received at least one more invite to give this talk at another university.

University of Greenwich

Podcast: Episode 14 – Paul Shepherd – Parametric Geometry Generation

These are the show notes for episode 14 of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast. 14 is the the largest number for which there are as many composite numbers less than it as there are primes.

This week on the podcast we hear from Dr. Paul Shepherd of the University of Bath. Paul is a mathematician working in the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering and speaks about his work designing buildings using parametric models. There is more information on Paul’s work including some interesting pictures of Parametric Models on his website. Paul was interviewed about his work on Arsenal football stadium in the Plus podcast in December 2007.

I mentioned I was excited this week to discover a blog called “Dunc’s Shed” in which the author had posted a link to the podcast.

You can find out more about my work with the IMA by reading this blog and visiting www.ima.org.uk/student.