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Macro November

If you read the previous blog post, you will realise I am slightly remorseful at the reduction in blog posts since I started using Twitter and am attempting to quickly catch up ready to post more often in future. Here is a catchup post for November.

By the start of November, I had noticed the effect of Twitter on my written output, although I suspect the absence of blog posts had more to do with my broken 3G card meaning I could easily tweet (from my phone) but less easily blog while on the go.

I kicked off the month with a trip to the LSE. LSE is a strange place in some ways – I am not used to meeting undergraduate mathematicians with a clear sense of direction but students at LSE are taking economics-facing aspects of mathematics and seemed to be very clear on their future plans. I was glad, then, that the student society chose to invite me to give my puzzles, rather than careers, talk. Later that week I made a trip to Kent. When I got to the university there had been a mix-up and no one arrived to meet me. To make a 7 hour round trip and give no talks would be a disaster! Luckily I had been copied into an email where the students were invited to the talk, so I knew where it was supposed to be. Armed with a campus map I found the room, and it filled with students, so I was able to give my talk.

The following week I took a trip to the North East. I started with my puzzles talk at Newcastle, followed by dinner and the pub with the every-welcoming Newcastle Mathsoc. The following day I was welcomed and my careers talk went well at Durham at lunchtime, as did my Spin in ball games/Wii talk in the evening at York. The students at York had Mathsoc hoodies with the slogan: “Mathsoc: the only society that counts”. A taxi driver in York asked me where I had come from. I said I started the day in Newcastle, was in Durham at lunchtime, York in the evening and returning to Newcastle for the night. “Wow,” he said, “you’re clocking up some miles there!” I didn’t tell him I had come from Nottingham the previous day and would return there tomorrow! The following morning I gave my puzzles talk to a large audience at Northumbria at Newcastle and it went well, then I returned to Nottingham. On my way home I did a quick tally – 205 students at 4 unis had heard me lecture in the previous 48 hours. Finally that week I went to Birmingham and spoke at the 11th Younger Mathematicians Conference, on my work with the IMA. Although I couldn’t make the whole day, I did catch the talk before mine which was introduced by the conference Chair as an “exciting sounding talk” on sperm biophysics!

The following week found me on a trip to Sheffield. I gave my careers talk to the student society at lunchtime and this went well, but it was the evening talk that was making me nervous. In the evening I was to give my talk on cryptography to students and local IMA members, in an attempt to kindle interest in a South Yorkshire Branch. This coincided with a student pub crawl and a local branch RSS talk in the department, so we were worried about attendance. Anyway, a good number of students and local members turned up and the talk was well received. I met a number of people who were involved in an IMA Branch in that area in the late 1970s. One chap came into the room and commented “It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these (an IMA Branch talk)”. I didn’t like to point out they haven’t held one while I’ve been alive – and I was giving it!

The following week saw me off to Scotland. I got on a train first thing and 6 hours later got off one in Dundee and within an hour I was giving a talk. I had planned to give my careers talk but was asked if I would mind giving a hybrid careers & puzzles talk. Tired and last minute though it was, I managed this. By the end of the day I had travelled around 400 miles and had set up camp in Edinburgh. The following day I travelled to Aberdeen and gave my cryptography talk to the Maths Club. By this time I had written my History of maths and x on substitution ciphers ready for 1 December and as a result had rewritten the first half of my cryptography lecture to take into account what I had learned. On the Wednesday, I travelled to Stirling first and gave my careers talk, then on to Glasgow. Glasgow was very wet and windy. I had a difficult time at Strathclyde: my talk was in a different building to the maths department and the chap who was to meet me was held up. Once I found the room and started late, my careers talk was interrupted by a fire alarm. As I had already given the talk once that day, I had a little trouble remembering what I had and hadn’t said when we resumed! By the time I gave my third careers talk of the day, at Glasgow, I felt I had really hit my stride. Maybe it was the wine they’d had before the talk but the MacSoc audience laughed, gasped and looked thoughtful when I thought they would. On Thursday I went to St. Andrews and gave my cryptography talk to the Chaosoc, which went well. I realised that this audience was the one with the 1000th student to have heard me speak this academic year. In the evening I returned to Edinburgh to give an evening lecture at Edinburgh on puzzles. This was well received by staff and students and followed by a wine reception. I was impressed at the level of staff/student engagement. Finally, last but not least, on Friday I gave a morning lecture on cryptography, the third this week, to the newly formed society at Heriot-Watt. In the audience at Heriot-Watt was visiting Professor Jerzy Jaworski, who usually works in cryptography at Adam Mickiewicz University, the institution (formerly known as Poznań University) from which the Polish Cipher Bureau recruited Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski, and Jerzy Różycki, the cryptanalysts who made the initial breakthroughs on cracking the Enigma machine (and whose efforts I mention in my talk). Boy, I’m glad I didn’t know that before I gave the talk! Anyway, he was very nice about my talk and said he had given hundreds of talks covering the same topics in an outreach role at his institution.

The trip to Scotland was fairly epic and I was very pleased to be able to visit all 8 universities that are on my list of Scottish universities offering mathematics. I have very much enjoyed both my trips to Scotland. At one of the talks I explained my job with the IMA was engaging with university mathematics students and someone asked me, incredulous, “do you do this job for the whole of…” I was already nodding enthusiastically, “…of Scotland?” Ah. Yes, I replied, this week I do.

In November I was questioned quite regularly over cups of tea and lunches by university staff on the future of the LMS, e-assessment, research funding and the Impact agenda. Quite a heady mix! Anyway, this brings us to the end of November and I will leave December to another post.

Goodbye, Scotland

I have now concluded my time in Edinburgh and am heading home on the train. I have really enjoyed my week in Scotland. I have visited some wonderful places and met some lovely people. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to explore the places I visited but then this isn’t a holiday! As well as yesterday morning seeking the Clerk Maxwell statue, I spent a couple of hours before my train this morning in a beautiful, sunny Edinburgh. Below are a couple of the many pictures I have taken. I particularly think the last one is a nice rendition of Edinburgh in sping. I would like to have spent more time (a fortnight perhaps?!) exploring but I had to get on a train as it is a long journey home at the end of a very busy week.

View over North BridgeView from North BridgeScott Memorial

James Clerk Maxwell statue in Edinburgh

I started the day with a spare hour in Edinburgh during which I had a pleasant walk around old Edinburgh and sought out the statue of James Clerk Maxwell which was erected earlier in the year and to which the IMA made a contribution. There are some pictures of the statue below.

James Clerk Maxwell statue 2James Clerk Maxwell statue 1James Clerk Maxwell statue 3
If you click on the picture of the plaque below you will see a larger version and may be able to make out the names of the donors, including the IMA at the bottom right.James Clerk Maxwell statue plaqueAfter seeing the statue, the good people of the Royal Society of Edinburgh showed me into the Maxwell room which included a hologram of the statue and a case of artifacts (pictures below). I was particularly taken by the manuscript for an article hand written by Maxwell which is exhibited along with the hand written referees comments.

Maxwell's papers

Crisis and Careers in Edinburgh

I have had a somewhat fraught day in Edinburgh. I gave a careers talk hosted by Dugald Duncan at Heriot-Watt University in the late morning. This was well attended and went perfectly well. I even made contact with a student who is in the process of forming a Mathsoc at that university and encouraged him to consider a University Liaison Grant application. There is a picture of a statue of James Watt at Heriot-Watt below.

James Watt statue
Next I went to the University of Edinburgh for the afternoon. First I had lunch with Liam O’Carroll who organised the afternoon then we were joined by a group of postgraduate students and staff for tea and biscuits in a “Meet Peter Rowlett” session. Following this I was due to give a talk and on arrival at the room I realised I had left my laptop at Heriot-Watt. Crisis! I phoned Heriot-Watt and Pat Hampton offered to go to the room to look for it. I had to give my talk on a laptop provided by a member of the audience, David Mitchell. At the end of the talk I received word from the School Office that my laptop had been found safely at Heriot-Watt and I should phone to arrange collection of it but no time for that, I was on to my next appointment! I spoke briefly at the start of the staff meeting about my work with the IMA, which was a fairly intimidating affair, particularly being, as I was, slightly flustered by events so far. Then I was able to phone Heriot-Watt and arrange for them to send my laptop over in a taxi. David took me to a cash machine and waited with me for the taxi but we were still waiting as the time crept up to the second showing of my careers talk. I had to go and give the talk so David offered to wait for the taxi for me and collect my laptop. I went and gave my talk again and again it went well. Attendance at both talks was good, particularly given that it was Friday afternoon so I was pleased with this. After the talk I met up with David and my laptop is fine. I recorded podcast episodes with David and Mike Maher and then retired to the pub with David and some of his fellow PhD students for a relaxing drink at the end of a very stressful afternoon.

I am extremely grateful to both Pat Hampton and David Mitchell for their help with my laptop crisis. Without their involvement I could not have come to a happy solution. I think the talks in Edinburgh went well and were well attended despite my self-imposed crisis.

Talk to Scottish Branch

On Tuesday after teaching a class at Nottingham Trent 10am-12noon I jumped on the 12.45pm train to Edinburgh. I arrived at 5.30pm and by 6.30pm I was giving a talk to the IMA Scottish Branch. Busy day!

The invite to my talk went to staff and postgraduate students at Napier University and IMA members more generally in the Branch. I gave most of the content from my careers talk but filled this out with some background on the University Liaison initiative and some of my activities, including other talks, careers fairs, the RUMS group, University Liaison Grants, Mathematics Today and the Student Section, the Younger Members Group, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, this blog, my Twitter page and the podcast.

I’m happy to report that a member of the audience has already passed on what I said, including a link to this blog and the Maths Careers website from the maths4edinburgh blog.

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