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Mathematics Today April 2010: University Liaison Officer’s Report

[N.B. Followers of the podcast will know that there was a delay in releasing new episodes, so the podcast has not, at time of writing, reached 60 episodes.]

Podcast at sixty

By the time you read this, the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast will have released sixty episodes. I began producing the podcast in October 2008. I realised I was not going to reach every student at a talk or careers fair and so opportunities were needed to provide content electronically to a wider audience. On top of this, I realised that moving around the country as I do, I had a good opportunity to speak to a wide range of mathematicians about their work.

Most mathematics students don’t know what they want to do when they graduate. This is fine – it may be why they chose mathematics in the first place – but by the end of their degree they really need to have thought through their options. In fact, hopefully they will have done so by the time they enter the final year. I have spoken to a couple of careers advisors who have told me the first graduate recruitment deadline is several days before term starts in September, so students who return in their third year have already missed the first opportunity open to them. Presumably employers with deadlines this early want to attract applications only from students who are well-organised.

I want to encourage students to use their careers service. This is a resource that is valuable to them, but which, in my experience, they often don’t use. The opportunities offered by the careers service include, but are not limited to, finding out: who is hiring; what they are looking for; how to write a good CV; and, how to behave in an interview. But in order for the careers service to help the students make the difficult decision about what to do for their career, it is helpful if the students have explored the possible options. I think a short, ten minute audio podcast format provides a good method for this exploration. In my careers talk I ask students to listen to the podcast, and to read the Maths Careers website and the Plus Careers Library, to get an idea of the range of different occupations taken by mathematicians.

Regular podcast episodes involve mathematicians talking about their work, their career or an area of mathematics they have worked in. We also have features on maths history and maths news.

Podcast recordings are not well planned. Recordings are made opportunistically on days where I have gaps in my schedule and meet willing and interesting people. So while I can’t tell you there is a deliberate, well planned balance of topics and speakers, I think that now the podcast has reached 60 episodes it covers a good range of topics that should provide undergraduates with a wide variety of possible inspiration.

Episodes are quite varied, featuring topics such as maths biology, coding, cryptography, engineering, fluid dynamics, wave dispersion, transport modelling, network optimisation, Bayesian statistics, stochastic calculus, architecture, art, education, maths communication, finance, category theory, astrophysics, crowd modelling and even invisibility cloaks!

I encourage you to promote this resource to your students. Students can subscribe to the podcast and download episodes via

Activities Jan-Feb 2010

January is less active, while universities hold exams and end of semester coursework deadlines, and February is an active period of visits to give talks at universities. I have given my careers talk at Nottingham, Imperial, Oxford, Cardiff, Swansea, London Met and Keele. I have given a talk on ‘Chance and coincidence’ at Leicester. These 8 talks attracted 280 students.

In February the University of Greenwich ran an undergraduate conference “Tomorrow’s Mathematicians Today“. I attended this with Sharon Evans AMIMA, who helped me by talking to the students about working as a mathematician. A conference report is available in this issue of Mathematics Today so I will say no more expect that it was a fantastic and worthwhile achievement.

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