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Math/Maths LIVE from Greenwich!

Math/Maths Live from Greenwich

You’ve seen the promos.

You were promised a monster truck rally, a fight, an intervention, a sci-fi battle and a miracle cure. To find out what really happened on Wednesday 17th November 2010 at the University of Greenwich, you can listen to the Math/Maths Podcast Live from Greenwich!

Mathematics Today December 2009: University Liaison Officer’s Report

Improving graduate skills through an undergraduate conference

When I give my careers talk to undergraduates I talk about the skills their degree offers and those it may not. I highlight the skills employers think maths graduates do and don’t have, based on commonly held stereotypes. On the plus side a mathematician is logical, systematic, rigorous, clear thinking and analytical [1]. These are logical, analytical problem solvers, highly valued in many areas of employment [2]. On the other hand, employers think mathematicians are lacking in certain areas, including communication and social skills [1].

I believe the soon-to-be-graduate mathematician needs to be aware of the preconceptions held by the people who are interviewing them for positions. I tell students the person hiring them thinks they are a logical problem solver and worth hiring, but they believe that if they do so their new employee will need to be brought up to speed on communication and social skills. If the mathematician can demonstrate they conform only to the positive side of the stereotype they have the opportunity to surprise the interviewer and this may give them an edge. Of course it is not sufficient to simply make unsubstantiated claims: “I am an excellent communicator”. The student must be armed with experiences to provide evidence of their range of employability skills: “I have done x and this shows me to be an excellent communicator”.

It is against this background that I was approached by Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich with a plan to provide graduates with appropriate experiences and evidence of their skills: an undergraduate conference. Students are invited to propose short talks on a topic of their choosing, which will be approved through an abstract submission process. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear we were very happy to support this initiative through the University Liaison Project.

The conference, Tomorrow’s Mathematicians Today: an Undergraduate Mathematics Conference in London, supported by the IMA, is to take place on 6 February 2010 at the University of Greenwich. Abstracts are invited –by 1 p. m. on 18 December 2009 please to tmt@gre.ac.uk – and the students will be notified whether they have been successful in the new year. Students looking towards further study and research will benefit from having experienced (endured?!) the process of submitting an abstract to a conference. All student presenters will benefit from a skills enhancing experience and will return the better for having attended with clear evidence to demonstrate to potential employers what employable people they are. All attendees will find they have an enjoyable, enriching experience hearing about some interesting mathematics and mixing with their peers. As an added bonus Noel-Ann has managed quite a coup in getting IMA-LMS Christopher Zeeman Medal winner Professor Ian Stewart to deliver the keynote address.

The conference title – Tomorrow’s Mathematicians Today – reflects the idea that the conference is designed to attract delegates who will become the leading mathematicians of tomorrow. In part I think this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy; having benefited from this conference the delegates are armed to go into the world and become the next generation of leading mathematicians. I highly recommend encouraging your students to attend. There is more information on attendance and a call for papers elsewhere in this issue of Mathematics Today or you can visit the conference website at http://mathsoc.cms.gre.ac.uk/tmt/.

References

  1. CHALLIS, N., GRETTON, H., HOUSTON, K., and NEILL, N., 2002. Developing transferable skills: preparation for employment. In: P. KAHN, ed. and J. KYLE, ed., Effective Teaching and Learning in Mathematics & its Applications. London: Kogan Page, 2002, pp. 79-91.
  2. QUALITY ASSURANCE AGENCY FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, THE, 2002. Subject benchmark statements: Academic standards – Mathematics, statistics and operational research. Gloucester: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Activities Sept-Oct 2009

In September I returned from my summer break and started planning for the new academic year. I provided comments to Julie Hepburn, the IMA’s liaison in the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, on a rewrite she has conducted of the widely distributed careers advice leaflet “Your Options with Mathematics”. This leaflet had many limitations and Julie has made a substantial improvement despite severe restrictions on the style, length of individual sections and types of jobs that can be recommended. With the wide distribution and knock-on impact of that leaflet among careers advisors I think Julie has managed a substantial leap forward in improving the quality of careers advice offered to mathematicians. Also in preparation for the new year I arranged a print run of leaflets highlighting the benefits of membership to students that will be distributed to all departments and careers services where mathematics degrees are offered. I would be grateful if you could assist in distributing these and please let me know (peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk) if you need more!

In October I resumed my visits to universities. I gave my careers talk at the University of East Anglia, twice during induction week at Nottingham Trent, at Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool, Kingston, Lancaster, Manchester Metropolitan and Bolton. I also gave a talk on puzzles at Liverpool and one on cryptography at Lancaster. I took an IMA stall to a careers fair at Kingston and to the ever-successful “Calculating Careers” Fair at Manchester. I was shadowed to Kingston by new IMA Assistant Director, John Meeson, who wanted the opportunity to learn about students and their motivations re. membership, Altogether these events have put me in contact with over 500 students in October.

Maths at uni in The Indy

There is a guide on university aimed at potential university students by the Independent. This includes an A-Z on careers and the mathematics article has just been released. Apart from the picture (a calculator; a non-scientific one), the article seems quite good. Essentially, maths is a difficult but worth it and has a good range of post-degree options.

I am featured in a case study in the article. Noel-Ann Bradshaw, who contributes the Maths History features to the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast, and Steven Hughes, who will be organising the IMA Younger Mathematicians Conferences in 2010, both of the University of Greenwich, are featured as well.

View the article “Getting Into University > A-Z Degrees > Mathematics” by Emma Bartley on the Independent website.

Wii ball games in Greenwich

Yesterday I took the Wii to the Mathsoc at the University of Greenwich. I gave a talk on spin in the ball games pool, golf and tennis and then the students played pool and tennis on the Wii. I think everyone had a good time and hopefully it raised or reinforced their awareness of the IMA. It was a good evening, anyhow. Some pictures follow.

Playing pool
Playing pool 2
Playing tennis
Playing tennis 2

Careers in Greenwich

Last week I visited the University of Greenwich and gave a lunchtime session on careers. I talked about careers for mathematicians, skills of maths graduates and an overview of the IMA. This was followed by a CV writing session to make it up to an hour and I think this combination of me giving a talk followed by a skills session was a strong one. Noel-Ann Bradshaw, who organised this session, was kind enough to write a nice piece on this over at the IMA RUMS blog. I have retrospectively written a title and abstract for this talk as I plan to give it several more times this month:

What do mathematics graduates do? And what skills do employers think they lack?

This talk will highlight some of the broad range of careers options for mathematics graduates and point to several sources of career inspiration. Following this is information on the skills a maths degree gives you and those it perhaps does not. Looking at what skills employers think mathematics graduates lack will help you in finding a job – when you sit down in a job interview, what skills is the person opposite you expecting that you lack? Being able to surprise them may just get you the job! The talk rounds off with a look at the benefits of professional membership and some information about the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.

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.

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