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Mathematics Today August: University Liaison Officer’s Report

Enthusiastic individuals and persistent institutions

Recently, on Twitter no less, I came across the following quote:

“Without individuals, nothing happens; without institutions, nothing survives.”
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

This quote attracts me for two reasons. Firstly, I recently met a young mathematician interested in meeting others with similar academic interests. When I suggested he might want to join a learned society he told me “oh no, the learned societies are just for old people and I don’t want to be part of anything like that.” I consider this a tragic statement. Without being so specific as to identify him, I will say this person was a dynamic, enthusiastic person and precisely the sort of “individual” able to make things “happen”. It is a real shame he didn’t feel the natural step was to align himself with an established “institution” to ensure the fruits of his enthusiasm “survive”.

I do not know how widespread this viewpoint is but I have had others tell me that membership bodies (in general) are going out of fashion. This is sad: in and of itself, that an organisation which does good might not survive; that the enthusiasm of individuals may not be carried forward and amplified by affiliation with an organisation; and, in the case of the IMA, that membership of a professional organisation might decline at a time when individual professional development is increasingly well valued by employers.

We have to do all we can to rout this viewpoint among young mathematicians. If those with enthusiasm and similar outlook and aims to the IMA don’t feel it is worth joining then there is trouble ahead. This is broadly what I am trying to do as ULO, to improve the chances a student has heard of the IMA and some of the benefits of joining before they graduate. I believe that if they understand the benefits it is a natural choice for many to join. I can’t personally see every graduate and every young mathematician in employment so this is where I ask you as a member to evangelise on behalf of the IMA. This is a valuable organisation for mathematicians to be a part of and it benefits from a strong membership. The IMA Younger Members activities are the envy of representatives I have spoken to from professional bodies in other subjects and attendance at the Younger Mathematicians Conference (next in Birmingham in November) is an excellent first step into IMA activities for a graduate just starting their career in mathematics. There is presumably a barrier in communicating this information to the enthusiastic individual I met and others like him. You might find inspiration for your evangelising in the latter half of my careers talk slides, available through

The second reason this quote spoke to me is I have met some extraordinary young mathematicians and mathematics students in my time as ULO. The students with the drive to set up or revive a university student mathematics society at the same time as completing their studies are always pleasing to meet. I have rarely seen an organised collective effort to set up such societies; rather such societies owe a debt to the work of enthusiastic individuals. There is a piece in the Student Section from one such person, Mike Ross of Heriot-Watt University, with his tips for others thinking of setting up a university mathematical society.

Of course, the nature of student life means the enthusiast who set up the society will move on very quickly. Usually first year students are not sufficiently well established to set up or run a society until later in the year and final year students have other issues about which to worry (there are exceptions). I know several individuals who have been the driving force behind student societies who are moving on this year. The problem becomes: how do they ensure the continuity of their work?

The successful model is usually to find a group of younger students who are willing to form an organising committee and take this on – forming a persistent “institution”. Sometimes this works and sometimes the enthusiasm decreases in the following year. A model I have seen work well is to involve a postgraduate student or member of staff in the organisation of the society. As they are generally better established and around for longer they can usually provide continuity and drive that a one year student committee might otherwise lack. Societies who manage this transition well can enjoy years of activities that are to the benefit of the students and the whole department. Such societies often include an element of peer support and community spirit which can help a department with issues such as retention. Departments that act to ensure a healthy society able to capture and build on the enthusiasm of individuals are to be commended.

Of course, funding can be an issue and the IMA can help here. University Liaison Grants are available to university societies to support their activities. If you are interested in supporting your students to set up or revive a mathematical society this is an ideal use of a University Liaison Grant. If there is already a society then a grant may help extend their range of activities. An application form which includes some guidance on the types of activity that this money may be applied for is available through the website at

Activities May-June 2009

The post-Easter period is an interesting one. A majority of universities have finished or are finishing teaching and the appetite for a careers talk was reduced. However, the student societies are looking for fun activities to take a break from revision for exams. I gave my talk on spin in ball games followed by playing on the Wii at the Universities of Newcastle and Sheffield.

An exception to the semester-based system is the University of York, who were at the start of the third term. I went to York and gave an evening lecture on puzzles to the Mathsoc and opened the Maths Careers Fair with my careers talk and ran a stall (pictured are students “having a go” after my talk). The attendance for the careers talk was so great people were sitting in the aisle and others had to be turned away so I gave a second sitting of my talk for those students. I received positive feedback on my talk from staff and students. Other stallholders at the Careers Fair told me the students came out of my talk with enthusiasm and with a real pragmatism about what they needed to do, qualities the stallholders felt they didn’t usually see in undergraduates. The maths-specific careers fair format is a valuable one that I think works much more effectively for mathematics students than an untargeted fair.

Puzzles at York

I attended and spoke on my activities at the 10th IMA Younger Mathematicians Conference in Oxford which was, as usual, a useful and enjoyable occasion. I spoke at an event on new technologies for maths promotion to the Maths Promoters Network. I gave an introduction to the day and spoke about use of social networking (mostly Twitter) and gave a podcast live recording demo with Matt Parker (which can be heard in episode 31 via I was joined to speak on social networking (Facebook) by Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich and on podcasting by Marianne Freiberger of Plus. Also speaking were Zia Rahman of more maths grads and Richard Browne of MEI who both spoke on online videos and DVDs.

I made a visit to Kingston University to meet careers staff and postgraduates and attended the NUMS EGM at University College London. I ran a stall at a postgraduate conference at the University of Surrey. The University is in Guildford where Alan Turing lived as a child and he is honoured by a bronze statue outside the Austin Pearce Building where the conference took place (pictured).

Alan Turing StatueI had my 6-monthly meeting with my steering group in May and am happy to report this went well.

Mathematics Today June: University Liaison Officer’s Report

Careers resources

So far in 2009 around 450 students, 7 careers staff and 33 academic staff in 16 audiences have heard me speak on careers for mathematicians. My experience with staff is that they are very appreciative. Usually they either say “Thank you, that really reinforces everything we’ve been saying,” or “Wow, I’ve really learned a lot.” The former is very reassuring; good to know I am on the right track. The latter is extremely gratifying, particularly from careers staff. It pleases me to know I am doing my little part to improve the quality of careers advice given to mathematicians. I have had several requests to write up some of the resources used in my careers talk so here we go.

I frequently meet students who think that their only options are teaching or accountancy. Some realise there is more than just accountancy and widen their options to other parts of finance. I have seen examples of careers advice given out which reinforces this message. There is a document “Options with mathematics”, published by [1], which is the default document handed out as careers advice for mathematicians in many of the universities I have visited. This lists as directly relevant to a mathematics degree only finance and teaching options1. This is very damaging as it reinforces this incorrect impression of mathematics prospects for both students and their careers staff in a widely distributed document. In my careers talk, I make the point loudly and clearly that there is nothing wrong with either finance or teaching as career options, in fact I say that the country needs excellent mathematics graduates to become maths teachers and inspire the next generation, but that these options are not for everyone. I meet students who say “I don’t want to go into finance or teaching but what can I do?” Some students I talk to seem to genuinely think they have made a huge error in taking a degree that limits their options so thoroughly. If it weren’t so tragic, it would be hilarious.

I try to make the point in my talk that mathematics is a degree that doesn’t prepare you for a limited career path but in fact gives you skills that are so widely applicable they lead to a huge range of options. I try to stress the good news: according to the Maths Careers website, “Maths graduates earn more!” [2]. This gives some figures for a higher level of graduate average earnings over non-graduates and of mathematicians over the graduate average. Of course, this figure does not really stand scrutiny given the wide range of job types mathematicians are engaged in but can be a nice headliner. I point out that employment for maths graduates is below the graduate average, according to the Prospects graduate destination data [3], which shows what graduates are doing six months following graduation. I use a quote from careers advisor Sue Briault [4] to tell students: careers advisors say “Maths undergraduates are frequently targeted by employers because they have the key skills sought by business.” I do question “frequently targeted,” saying I don’t recall being “frequently targeted” by employers during my time at university! But I point out that if you present yourself in the right way the advice is that employers will be attracted to you.

Also on the subject of good graduate prospects, I point to an article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal in January 2009 [5]. This article claims that mathematics leads to a career path that provides “a steady stream of lucrative, low-stress jobs”. This quote always raises a chuckle and I would be interested to know whether members feel their job fits the description! The article reports on a study which had ranked 200 jobs from “Best” to “Worst”. The top 3 are: Mathematician, Actuary and Statistician. There are, of course, a few caveats here: What exactly is a “Mathematician”? Well, I think they mean someone working in mathematical modelling from the context. Looking at the measures used, these jobs will fare well for not involving heavy lifting, dealing with dangerous chemicals, working outdoors, unsociable hours, etc. and this will inflate their ranking. But actually there are plenty of jobs that don’t involve these and yet the top three are Mathematician, Actuary and Statistician.

A useful report that I draw on is the Class of ’99 report [6]. This UK Government-commissioned study by Warwick University published in 2005 looks at early labour market experiences of graduates over a 4 year period and I draw three results from this for my talk. The study looked at whether graduates were in a job which required them to have a degree (a graduate job). Mathematics graduates (actually, “mathematics and computing” is the grouping used) were low for percentage in non-graduate jobs. In fact, over the four year period the only lines on the graph that are lower are education and medicine. Well, I tell students, if you’ve trained to be a teacher, doctor or nurse and you aren’t doing a graduate job then something has gone very wrong! I think this is an important message: many students in their second or final year will have genuinely made all the choices that limit their options on graduation already. In mathematics the field is wide open yet mathematics still fares very well for percentage in graduate jobs.

The study found mathematicians were high for average gross earnings; top for women and second only to law for men. Finally, that the study reports a high probability of being in a “high quality” job. Participants were asked to self define whether they worked in a high quality job and a good proportion said they did. These two results are a little flimsy but hark back to the Wall Street Journal article; another little nod in the direction of mathematics leading to lucrative and enjoyable jobs.

I am very aware of the lack of academic integrity of many of the sources used here. I am not a disinterested observer; the results and conclusions are drawn selectively to support an argument. Still, this is maths promotion, not academic study. I am in the business of trying to get soon-to-be graduates excited about taking their maths further in life and not simply giving up because of the perceived lack of options. I think there is truth in what I tell students and I think that the message presented can be used to encourage students to explore their options more thoroughly. I encourage others to use the resources listed in the References in their own maths promotion.

Following this, I show students a list of sources for careers profiles. One of the barriers to careers advice for mathematics students is the wide range of options available. The mathematics student could very well be presented with half of the contents of the careers library to consider. This is good news but impractical and, I think, a real problem for careers advisers. It’s all very well saying students are presented with a limited range of options but when the potential range is so huge students will be scared away by the quantity of material potentially open to them.

I recommend students visit the Maths Careers website [8] with its full and every increasing list of careers profiles (contributions welcome: I am very pleased with the IMA’s new careers advice leaflet by Vanessa Thorogood, the content of which is excellent [9]. I hand out copies of this whenever I get the chance; I have probably given out near to a thousand since it was released earlier this year. Students who attend my careers talks or careers stalls often take extra copies for their friends. I also encourage reading of Careers for Mathematicians by Sue Briault [4].

I recommend the Plus careers library [10], which contains a good number (and growing) of careers interviews, some with audio. I also take the opportunity to push my Travels in a Mathematical World podcast [11]. This has interesting mathematicians talking about their work in some diverse applications of mathematics and I think it is a good resource for students wanting to explore their options. I tell students to read or listen to a selection of these and once they have a clearer idea of areas they are interested in they can go to the careers library and be in greater control of the range of options available to them.

Activities March-April 2009

In contrast to February, March and April were months in which many students had coursework deadlines, vacation or exam revision so the opportunities to give talks were limited. I gave my careers talk at London Met and my talk on spin in ball games followed by the chance to play pool and tennis on a Nintendo Wii (welcome relief from revision) at the Universities of Leicester, Newcastle and Sheffield.

The Easter holiday brought conference season. I was involved with the British Applied Mathematics Colloquium 2009 and associated Meet the Mathematicians outreach day from the confusing position of both an IMA and a University of Nottingham employee. I don’t mind having two separate employers; when one moves in with the other it gets a little confusing! Meet the Mathematicians was a good day of interesting talks which will appear in time on The BAMC was, as last year, an excellent opportunity to talk to a large number of applied mathematics postgraduate students, IMA members and lecturers who might invite me to talk with their students. We even gave away a few membership application forms. I recorded a retrospective on the conference immediately following it with Professor Oliver Jensen and this can be heard as episode 27 of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast (

Also in conference season, I attended the Young Researchers in Mathematics conference at Cambridge. This is the product of an exciting new initiative to bring together young mathematics researchers and was a vibrant inaugural conference. The organisers are to be congratulated. I rounded off the conference season with a trip to London for Mathematics 2009, which I would recommend to anyone as the IMA’s premier general interest conference, and the Women in Mathematics Day, where I felt conspicuous but was welcomed nonetheless.

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: You can also now follow me on Twitter through


  1. PROSPECTS, 2008. Options with mathematics Via: [Accessed: 28/04/09].
  2. COUNCIL FOR THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES, 2006. Maths graduates earn more! [online]. Via: [Accessed: 08/10/08].
  3. GRADUATE PROSPECTS, 2008. What do graduates do? 2008 [online]. Via:!eLaFFee [Accessed: 08/10/08].
  4. BRIAULT, S., 2008. Careers for Mathematicians. Mathematics Today, 44(3), pp. 117-118. Also via:
  5. NEEDLEMAN, S.E., 2009. Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs. Wall Street Journal, 6 Jan. Available at: [Accessed: 23/01/09]
  6. PURCELL, et al, 2005. The Class of ’99: A study of the early labour market experiences of recent graduates [online]. Via: [Accessed: 08/10/08].
  7. LEWIS, C., 2008. Take Five. The Times, 10 Dec. Available at: [Accessed: 23/01/09].
  8. Maths Careers:
  9. THE INSTITUTE OF MATHEMATICS AND ITS APPLICATIONS, 2009. Mathematics Careers Advice. Available via:
  10. Plus Careers Library:
  11. IMA Travels in a Mathematical World podcast:

1. We are talking to the authors of this document through the IMA liaison with AGCAS, Julie Hepburn, about updating this document to be a little more realistic.

Wii ball games in Newcastle and Sheffield

At the end of April I made a trip to Newcastle and back via Sheffield to give my talk on Spin in Ball Games and play on the Wii. Both of these events were fun and I think provided some welcome revision relief for the students. At this time of year a lot of universities have ceased all but revision lectures and the appetite I found for careers talks in February is much reduced by now. Both of these talks were organised by the student societies and I think it is useful for me to have in my repertoire more fun events to engage with students in these situations.

Below are the posters used to advertise my presence in the two universities (click to enlarge). Apart from the completely made up title and abstract at Sheffield (my fault for not sending the real one), I think it is interesting to note the differences in approach taken. At Sheffield, an attempt is made to make the talk appear like a serious mathematical lecture on the physics of spin in ball games and how these are modelled in video games, using ‘examples’ on the Wii. On the other hand Newcastle make no bones about it, using a large photo of a Wii on the poster! In reality, the Newcastle interpretation is closer to reality; this is intended to be a fun night out of tenuous mathematical relevance in which the students have a laugh and go home a little more aware of the existence of the IMA. The ‘serious’ talk at Sheffield had to pause at one point when one of the players had a call from his girlfriend who, with the noise of the Wii in the background, would simply not believe he was at a maths event. “No really, it’s a serious maths lecture from the IMA” he said, with Mario Power Tennis sound effects in the background.


Advert for my talk at Newcastle
Advert for my talk at Sheffield

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 ( 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

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

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:

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

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 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

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

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 ( 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:


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

New Unified Mathematical Society

Over the past two weeks I have hectically followed the Presidents of the IMA and the LMS on a tour of several universities connected to the proposal for the formation of a new mathematical society. I should say my involvement has been nothing compared to the Presidents, who have visits more universities than I, have three more weeks to go and have to actually lead discussions at these universities where I don’t. It is a staggering undertaking for them.

My first trip was last week when I visited the univerisites of Newcastle, York and Leeds. This is a lovely part of the world and the approach to Newcastle by train was stunning despite heavy rain. Below are pictures from Newcastle by night, the mathematics department at Leeds and the Presidents answering questions in York.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
University of York Department of Mathematics
Presidents answering questions
This week I visited the University of Warwick (pictured below) and attended a seminar by David Abrahams, the President of the IMA, followed by the proposal talk and discussion. Then yesterday I attended my local meeting at the University of Nottingham.

Warwick Mathematical Institute
It is interesting to meet so many members of both organisations and to see some parts of the country which I haven’t previously been to. I have used the opportunity to meet with or get contact details for various university mathematical societies and with more maths grads in Leeds. You can find out more about the proposal at the New Unified Mathematical Society website, as well as some of the questions that have come up on the tour as frequently asked questions.