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Spinning careers in Leicester

Last week I visited the University of Leicester at the invitation of the Student Union Maths Society (SUMS) to give my talks on careers and on spin in ball games, following by playing Tennis on the IMA Wii. There are some pictures below. In a busy week, this was a fun evening with a nice bunch of students. They seemed to receive the talks well.

Wii Tennis at Leicester 1
Wii Tennis at Leicester 2
Wii Tennis at Leicester 3
Wii Tennis at Leicester 4

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.

Mathematics Today December: University Liaison Officer’s Report

The right lever to move the world

The new academic year has brought a mass of activity and potential opportunities. I am keen to spread the IMA message as widely as possible so thoughts turn to how my activities can be distributed to as many students as possible. So it is that I have begun several new initiatives.
Starting with the October issue, selected articles from Mathematics Today are distributed electronically to student groups with whom I have a contact or other student reps where no such group exists. These contacts will then redistribute the electronic Mathematics Today to students within their universities. This means that, perhaps as you read this, I will be reading through and picking a selection of articles from this copy of Mathematics Today that I think are of interest to students. Students will receive links to PDFs that are active for a limited period. I am also sending each student group a print copy of Mathematics Today for them to display at their events. The intention is that by receiving some of the content from Mathematics Today, students might begin to gain awareness of the IMA and the role it can play in their lives post-graduation. Certainly, we can hope that more students will be exposed to the IMA through this method than could be by my actions in person. And with the quality content in Mathematics Today we can be assured that the exposure will be meaningful as well as wide-reaching. If you would like students at your university to receive Mathematics Today please contact me at peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk.

A second activity I have begun is a podcast, Travels in a Mathematical World, which features mathematicians talking about their work and careers, as well as Maths History features from Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich and Maths News roundups with Sarah Shepherd of iSquared Magazine. This has been running for a few weeks now and the response I have had so far has been positive with students I have spoken to keen to hear from ‘real life mathematicians’. At a Mathsoc event at the University of Greenwich I was approached by a student who said “I was listening to you this morning.” It took me a moment to realise what she meant! You can listen to episodes and download the podcast at http://www.travelsinamathematicalworld.co.uk/. Any promotion you can provide for this is most welcome.

Thirdly (and I won’t say “finally”!), my relationships with university mathematical societies continue to increase in number. Through a group I am calling Representatives of University Mathematical Societies (RUMS), I am able to keep in touch with students at a wide range of universities through a single contact at each. Universities that do not have such student groups often have a student representative on some staff-student liaison group and sometimes it is possible for this student to act as my point of contact, or simply another keen student. So RUMS membership now includes students from universities without mathematical societies. This group is a huge advantage to my interactions as the task of maintaining a current list of students would be impractical. And there is, I think, a clear advantage to the students themselves in already participating in the mathematical community. If you are in touch with a student group, or know your university doesn’t have one but can think of another student who may be able to help, please get in touch via peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk.

I have set up a new blog for the members of the RUMS group to post news from their activities and share ideas. As I travel I am made aware of the different groups who all have similar goals and are all running into the same issues and this blog is designed for groups to share this experience. Particularly, I meet new student groups and it is good to be able to point them to the blog for inspiration. In the Student Section this time I have collected a few snippets of news from the blog. The blog is available at imarums.blogspot.com.

Activities Sept-Oct 2008

Last time I mentioned a questionnaire that I have distributed to universities through our network of IMA University Representatives and I am glad to say that responses have been coming in through this period. I have a 37% response rate with questionnaires returned from 27 universities.

During September I made several trips to Birmingham. First, I met with the IMA’s new liaison with the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), Julie Hepburn from the Cardiff University Careers Service. We had a chat about what AGCAS and the IMA can do together. I’ve also visited the more maths grads project, who do some great work in mathematics enrichment at school level. We are exploring ways we can work together in areas we overlap, particularly on careers advice. Lastly, I attended the LMS Popular Lectures 2008 and grabbed 5 minutes with the Co-Chair of the Mathsoc at Birmingham and I am happy to report they are now successful University Liaison Grant applicants.

In October, I visited the University of Leicester and met with the enthusiastic bunch who are the committee for the student group there. Those who enjoy a bit of wordplay will enjoy the name: Student Union Maths Society (SUMS).

Next came my small part in following the New Unified Mathematics Society tour. I visited Newcastle, York, Leeds, Warwick and my home city of Nottingham with the Presidents of the IMA and LMS, David Abrahams and Brian Davies, respectively. It was really useful to go to universities I have not yet had the chance to visit and I have made some useful contacts there. I took the opportunity to catch up with the Mathsoc at Newcastle, who have recently made their second successful University Liaison Grant application and the more maths grads regional base in Leeds.

I visited the University of Greenwich for a talk organised by the MathSoc there on “Thinking Mathematically” by John Mason. Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich is looking to organise a grouping of London Universities who can look to cross-promote events and I stopped on my way across London to meet the President of the Maths Society at Imperial College.

Finally I rounded off the month in Manchester, where I attended a mathematics specific careers event, “Calculating Careers”. I operated a stall at this with a mixture of careers advice, IMA materials and last but certainly not least a set of puzzles. This did lead to an afternoon of me calling out to passing students:”Fancy playing a game?” but it also led to all those students going home with a “Maths Matters” postcard from the Maths Careers website (http://www.mathscareers.org.uk/) and a copy of the Mathematics Today article Careers for Mathematicians1 under their arms, and hopefully some raised awareness of the IMA. I was told afterwards that my stall had seen the most activity at the fair so there is something to be said for baiting mathematicians with intellectual curiosities!

You can find out more about the University Liaison initiative by visiting the IMA Student page or reading my blog, both via: www.ima.org.uk/student.

References

1. BRIAULT, S., 2008. Careers for Mathematicians. Mathematics Today, 44(3), pp. 117-118.

Enigmatic SUMS in Leicester

Yesterday I spent an afternoon in Leicester. I visited the University of Leicester and met with the Student Union Maths Society (SUMS) group in the new David Wilson Library. They are an enthusiastic bunch and we had a good meeting discussing their plans for the group and how the IMA can help.

Leicester Library
I then walked a pleasant walk along New Walk between the University of Leicester and De Montfort University. It was a very wet day but there were plenty of people out and walking; the whole walk had a really nice atmosphere.

New Walk
At De Montfort, I attended the IMA East Midlands Branch talk on “Enigma, Bletchley Park & The Battle of the Atlantic” by Dr Mark Baldwin. This was apparently the 251st time Dr Baldwin had given this talk but he was enthusiastic and entertaining nonetheless. I was hoping to share a picture of his Enigma machine, but the crowd having a go with it was too deep! You can find out more about Enigma and see pictures at Wikipedia, and worth a visit is Bletchley Park.

Queens Building, De Montfort

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