It is the Easter holidays and I spent the week in Bath and visited Bath and Bristol Universities. Because it was the holidays there were fewer people around than there would be in term time but I still had several useful meetings.
At Bath, I had a meeting with several IMA members and discussed views on the IMA and its website. I also had interesting chats with Dr Adrian Bowyer about his work in mechanical engineering and on the RepRap self-replicating machine (photographed below) and Dr Paul Shepherd about his research in modelling architecture.
I also was able to meet with Sue Briault of the Bath Careers Advisory Service, who will be giving talks in the new term to undergraduate mathematicians on careers. Sue previously worked at the University of Nottingham and wrote for the Centre for Career Development Career Matters website, which looks like an interesting resource and contains documents such as this PDF on options with Mathematical Sciences degrees.
At the Reading Careers Library last week I was given a tour. This was quite illuminating. There is a problem with mathematics in this context, as information on potential careers is grouped by job sector. If a student of, say, Law rolls up to the careers library their is a clear section with information on their career prospects in that named sector. Since mathematics students graduate to a wide range of sectors this produces a barrier to access of careers information. A student needs to know they are interested in a career in say, Finance, so they can look up specific information on careers in that sector.
One interesting piece of information is the factsheet given to students when they arrive at the careers library. Students are given a factsheet printed from the prospects.ac.uk website, a well respected authority on university careers advice. This factsheet can be downloaded from the Prospects website: “Options with mathematics.” I would invite comment on this, particularly on the list of jobs under “Jobs directly related to your degree.”
Last week I visited Reading University. It is the Easter holiday so there are not many people around but I still had very useful meetings with Sandhya Tanna of the Reading Careers Advisory Service (building pictured to the right) and Simon Chandler-Wilde, Head of the Mathematics Department.
Maths at Reading includes a compulsory module on Maths communication skills which includes 5 credits on Career management skills. This inclusion of training in not only mathematical skills but also the skills to put across your skills and knowledge is interesting.
In the evening I attended an IMA North Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire Branch meeting, which was an interesting and lively talk by Dr Philip Bond on quantum cryptography.
I seem to spend half my life in St. Pancras Railway Station. Today I was passing through London on my way to Reading for a visit there tomorrow.
On the train from Nottingham I had a cheap advanced ticket. These are tickets where you pay a low price because you guarantee to be on a particular train. When you get on the train there are several announcements that if you have this type of ticket booked for a different train your ticket will not be valid – this, after all, is the point of this type of ticket – and you have to buy a full price ticket. These announcements are so explicit that I always get a pang of worry that I might have miscalculated and am unnecessarily relieved when my ticket is stamped.
Still, there are people around me on nearly every train I travel on with invalid tickets. I have seen a poor chap with not enough English to understand what is happening be kicked off at Beeston to plead his case at the ticket office; I have seen a girl cry when made to buy a new, full price ticket.
Another similar situation is Loughborough, where there is a short platform. You have to be in the correct carriages to get off. There are so many announcements about this that it is really quite irritating, yet people still get angry when trying to get off at the wrong door.
Today, the repetitive announcement was that the train was the express, stopping only in Loughborough and Leicester. Still, a group in front of me were booked for Market Harborough, where the train does not stop.
I am always nervous on trains that I may have miscalculated my travel plans, and I know mistakes can be made. Nonetheless, I am amazed at how often these problems arise (and I only see the small parts of the small number of trains I am on), when considered relative to the frequency of the warning announcements.
This makes me think about my role promoting the IMA. I must tell people the IMA exists, what it does, that there is information on the IMA Student webpage. I worry that I will begin to sound repetitive and annoying, but my experiences on the train make me wonder: how many times do I need to repeat the message before people hear it?
On Tuesday evening I attended a Maths-Art Seminar at London Knowledge Lab. This was a talk by Cameron Browne on Truchet curves and surfaces. More information on this and other topics, as well as some interesting visuals can be found at Cameron’s website.
Maths-Art Seminars are videoed and available in the fullness of time through the LKL Maths-Art Seminars website.
On Tuesday, I attended a Maths Promoters Network event at De Morgan House at which Marcus du Sautoy gave a talk on public engagement with mathematics. This talk was a very personal one on Marcus’ experience of dealing with the media and was very interesting. An interesting point was Marcus’ belief that it was valuable to accept requests for silly faux-mathematical stories from the media if (and only if) a serious mathematical message could be attached.
Marcus was keen to emphasise the importance of mathematical research alongside maths communication and shared the quote from David Hilbert:
“A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man [or woman] whom you meet on the street.”
Overnight there was an earth quake. Oblivious, I managed to sleep through this, though plenty of people have talked about it today. There are seismologists scrambling to measure the quake and reports are giving values on the logarithmic Richter Scale. The suggestion that this quake was caused by an old fault in the East Midlands reactivating will need to be investigated. At the same time, insurance companies are working to respond to claims from customers who were affected and reports include the estimated cost of the earthquake to the country. Lots of mathematics going on today, then. The BBC have a good round up on UK earthquakes and the cost of the earthquake.
Despite the earthquake being centred around Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, on my arrival in London this morning the headline on the newspaper stand was “QUAKE HITS LONDON”. Shocking!
I was in London to attend the IMA Executive Board, where I presented my ideas for the University Liaison work in a report. I am much relieved to have received the kind words and encouragement of the members of Executive Board and feel much more confident of my plans. I will resist the urge to quip some suggestion that my work will be a shake up of similar proportions!