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Last week I stayed in Bristol on my way back from Plymouth. As I was going to be there I contacted both Bristol Universities and am pleased to report that at embarrasingly short notice they were both able to arrange for me to give my careers talk. First I travelled to University of West of England (UWE) and gave a talk to a small group there. This was a nice, relaxed environment and my talk was well received – I have been asked to come back and give it (with more notice!) to a skills/careers module. The picture below is of the building where I gave my talk.

University of West of England Maths and Stats
Next came the University of Bristol Department of Mathematics. I visited Bristol before earlier in 2008 and so was familiar with it. This helped, since the chap who had arranged the talk was unable to meet me. I was at the front of the lecture theatre with 40 or so students looking at me and no idea what to do! Thankfully, Dan Lindsay of Matrix was in the audience and shouted out advice on how to get the projection system working. The talk went well and seemed to be well received. The picture below is of the maths building.

University of Bristol MathematicsWandering the corridors I took the picture below. Bristol is a university with degrees approved under the IMA Programme Approval Scheme and the picture below shows that they are proudly displaying their certificates. I have also noticed that they are boasting their approval on their website. This is really good to see, since it helps increase the IMA’

University of Bristol IMA Programme Approval Certificates

Mathematics Today June: University Liaison Officer’s Report

The following report is my report in Mathematics Today June.

“When I graduated from my mathematics degree, between results and graduation I received a letter from a local academic suggesting I join the IMA. I thought: ‘Who are these people and why would I want to give them my money?’ and the letter went straight in the bin.”

I have made this statement a lot since I applied for the job as University Liaison Officer last October and have found general agreement from those who also received such letters and even from those who distribute them. This leads me to suspect you may be nodding as you read this!

I think the process of a known local academic giving a letter to students suggesting they join is a good idea with a desirable personal touch. In my opinion, the problem is that the students aren’t aware of the IMA, its work and the benefits of joining before this point and so the letter doesn’t strike a chord.

I later discovered who the Institute are, learned a little about what it does and joined up. I think the IMA has a lot to offer graduates as they embark on their careers but yet only a small percentage of maths graduates are joining (approx. 5%). The illuminating statistic here, in my opinion, is that there are around 4500 members of the IMA and there are around 4500 mathematics graduates per year in the UK. So the potential is huge!

I should explain a little for those who do not know about the graduate recruitment exercise. Sometime towards the start of the calendar year the IMA writes to its contacts in UK university mathematics departments and asks how many graduates they will have this year. They are then sent the appropriate number of graduate recruitment packs to distribute to those students. They should have been received and distributed therefore during the past 2-3 months.

I have spoken with people in universities who distribute these packs and appreciate their value to the students. Some people send the packs through the post to students while some hand them out in final year lectures. I have also visited universities where I can’t find anyone who is aware of receiving the packs or what happens to them.

So my call for assistance this time is: are you involved with the graduate recruitment exercise at your university? I am interested in how the packs are handled. Do you have any views on the effectiveness of this campaign or what could be done to improve it? If you have any information or views on this or any other issue please email me at

If you believe your university is not involved in this process then I would certainly be pleased to hear from you as it may mean we have an out of date contact in our list.

Activities March-April 2008

In March I visited the University of Reading, where the Mathematics Department has a compulsory skills module which includes a career management component operated by the Careers Advisory Service. This is an unusual arrangement and an interesting one. I also visited Bath and Bristol and found at those universities an appetite for engagement with the IMA and particularly for careers talks given by former students who are now IMA members.

In March/April I attended two half days of the 50th anniversary BAMC. It was really great to see such a vibrant applied mathematics community at work, although it must be said that most of the talks were outside my mathematical knowledge! I also attended a couple of interesting sessions at “Meet the Mathematicians”, a sixth form outreach event attached to BAMC.

In April I spent a beautiful sunny day visiting the Mathematical Institute at Oxford. I met with several interesting members of staff and had a productive chat with the incoming organising committee for the Invariants, the student mathematical society. The Invariants enjoy slightly off-syllabus mathematics talks and are thinking about reviving a student magazine. I also spent a productive afternoon in Portsmouth visiting the Department of Mathematics and the Purple Door careers service. To round off the month I attended the Manchester Mathsoc Ball and talked to final year students about the benefits of joining the IMA.

IMA Stickers

I have to apologise for the trouble with the stickers last time. For those who don’t know I wrote in Mathematics Today April that a sticker would be included saying “I’m a member of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications – Are you?” Unfortunately this was not included with Mathematics Today as expected but instead we sent it out the following week under a separate cover.

Still, I must report a huge positive reaction to the stickers. I would like to say thank you to all the people who have emailed me with their support for this idea to raise the visibility of the IMA. I have also had several requests from people wanting more than one sticker, which is very gratifying!

During my visit to Portsmouth in April I saw my first sticker “in the wild” (that is, a sticker I didn’t stick to something!) on the door of Ann Heal. I have since seen others and plenty of people have told me how they have displayed theirs. It is nice to see people taking a liking to this idea.

IMA on Facebook

The IMA group on Facebook and the IMA Facebook App are linked to from the IMA Student page (not just for students!) at or search for “Institute of Mathematics and its Applications” on Facebook.

If you are attending the Eight Younger Members Conference in May you can add this to your Events on Facebook.

Student Section of Mathematics Today

In the Student Section this issue is a piece adapted from a careers advice leaflet produced for mathematics students by Bath Careers Advisory Service by Sue Briault. I hope you will find this, as I did, packed with useful advice.

Licence to practice mathematics

I intermittently read a webcomic xkcd, which is mostly teccy and sometimes mathsy jokes. One from a couple of weeks ago stikes me as funny: “Math Paper“. Also, the last frame reminds me of a sign I saw attached to the side of the Department of Mathematics at Bristol. I took a picture of this, (I didn’t take much time over this as it was raining pretty badly so the quality is not great, but I think you get the idea):

Sign reads: Maths Permit Holders Only

(for those grounded in reality, the sign was of course in the car park attached to the Department).

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.

Rainy but useful time at Bristol

Department of Mathematics
Bristol is in the interesting position of being a university with both a Department of Mathematics (above) and a Department of Engineering Mathematics (below). I met with staff in the Mathematics department and enjoyed a tea break in the Engineering Mathematics department. (Incidentally, I drank from a “BAMC 2007” mug and I am off to BAMC 2008 next week in Manchester).

As at Bath the day before, there were less people around due to the Easter break but I still managed to meet some people with interesting views. There was a view expressed that students may respond well to graduates returning to their university to give talks on their careers, which combines well with views expressed yesterday by Sue Briault at Bath that students really want to hear from those who are really doing the job. I will have to explore the opportunities the network of IMA members has in this area.

Queens Building