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New Maths Building

When I started at Nottingham, I was told my office arrangements would only be temporary as we were looking to build a new building. Now that I am leaving (didn’t know? You haven’t been listening to the Math/Maths Podcast!) I will not, after all, be moving to this building. Building work has started, though. Here’s a picture:

New maths building site at Nottingham

They’re extending an existing building (IESSG), although I think the extension will be substantially bigger than the existing building.

This means Nottingham will follow several other recent moves by UK mathematics departments into new buildings. Off the top of my head, there’s Cambridge (2000-2003), Heriot-Watt (2005), Nottingham Trent (2005), Manchester (2007), Bath (2010), and upcoming at Oxford and Bristol. There are probably others I’ve forgotten.

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 www.ima.org.uk/student

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 www.ima.org.uk/student

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 www.travelsinamathematicalworld.co.uk). 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.

Podcast: Episode 1 – Professor Philip Maini, Oxford – Maths Biology

These are the show notes for episode 1 of the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast. 1 is the multiplicative identity. More facts about the number 1 from thesaurus.maths.org.

In this episode, Professor Philip Maini of the Centre for Mathematical Biology, University of Oxford, talks about the field of mathematical biology. On his website, I’d recommend you take a look at his “Research Gallery” (link at the top of the page) for more about his work.

If this has piqued your interest, you can read a story about animal patterning and find other mathematical biology articles at plus, the online maths magazine. If you’re really interested, the IMA publishes a journal, Mathematical Medicine and Biology.

You can find out more about my work with the IMA by reading this blog and visiting www.ima.org.uk/student.

Mathematics Today August: University Liaison Officer’s Report

The following report is my report in Mathematics Today August.

The thought may or may not be welcome during the summer break, but the new intake of undergraduates will arrive shortly and my thoughts turn to engaging them with the IMA. A number of universities send out information to incoming students after A-Level results but before they arrive at university. I have received offers from some of the universities I have visited to include a letter from me in that mailing.

This letter will encourage students to participate in mathematical activities outside of their studies through that university (departmental events and undergraduate societies) and more widely through the IMA (Branches, Younger Mathematicians Conference and the overarching “Mathematics” conference). Of course, this will also promote student membership and resources such as the MathsCareers website.

Student members get access to the benefits of IMA membership at the much reduced rate of £10. I believe it could be useful to a university to have an undergraduate body with a good number of student members. Such a university will have a proportion of the undergraduate population receiving Mathematics Today and the eBulletin, and invitations to Branch events and IMA conferences. Such students are also demonstrating an inclination towards keeping in touch with the mathematics community and to their professional development as mathematicians beyond their studies. Such an arrangement would hopefully encourage a strong mathematical culture amongst the undergraduate body (more of which in the Student Section) and be beneficial for graduates.

If you are willing to distribute this letter to your students please get in touch (peter.rowlett@ima.org.uk) and I will arrange to send you some copies.

Activities May-June 2008

In May I went to the University of Manchester for the Manchester Research Students Conference, a conference for research students with the interesting idea that talks are used to learn about an area of mathematics outside your own research. I also visited Cardiff for the Eighth Younger Mathematicians Conference; a popular event which I believe was enjoyed by all.

In June I attended the launch of the new West of England Branch at Kingswood School in Bath. This was a talk by Chris Budd on the theme of his article in the popular Industrial Mathematics special issue of Mathematics Today (February 2008) and was well attended. I spend some time at the University of Greenwich and I have just received a t-shirt from the MathSoc there. A set were printed with a grant from the IMA which will give the MathSoc increased awareness and will be sold to fund a print run of the revived MathSoc newsletter, ‘Prime Times’ and a further print run of t-shirts.

I visited the University of Oxford for the post-exams Maths Options Fair. This event was well attended and I handed students a sheet of information on the IMA and a copy of the article “Careers for Mathematicians” by Sue Briault from the student section of Mathematics Today June1. I attended a Maths, Stats and OR Network workshop on Graduate and Employability Skills, hosted by Dr. Stephen Hibberd at the Centre for Integrative Learning, University of Nottingham. This was an interesting and lively day and I met many enthusiastic workers in this area.

June also brought the Presidential Address of Prof. David Abrahams at the Royal Society, and I would encourage you to look out for this as he tours around the Branches. I rounded off June at the European Consortium for Mathematics in Industry – ECMI 2008 Conference, where I attended the opening day and welcome reception.

This period has also been a busy one for IMA meetings, and as well as reporting to Council and Executive Board I have attended meetings of several other committees. It is useful to get an overview of what the IMA does and to meet some of those who give so generously of their time to further the work of the Institute. I also had my six month steering and personnel reviews and I am happy to report these went well.

IMA on Facebook

A reminder that the IMA group on Facebook and the IMA Facebook App are linked to from the IMA Student page (not just for students!) at www.ima.org.uk/student or search for “Institute of Mathematics and its Applications” on Facebook.

Student Section of Mathematics Today

In the Student Section this time is a piece by Shahzia Hussain of the Galois Group at the University of Manchester. Shahzia is an undergraduate with an impressive enthusiasm and energy for promoting mathematics. The Galois Group, her creation, is an impressive undertaking, especially on a voluntary basis alongside a mathematics degree and Shahzia is to be congratulated.

References

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

IMA Membership: An option for Oxford Mathematicians?

Last week I attended the Maths Options Fair at the University of Oxford. This is for third year undergraduates to consider their options and I was invited to this by Audrey Curnock of the Mathematical Institute so I could meet those students and make them aware of the IMA.

The event was well attended. I met a lot of students and gave them a leaflet about IMA membership and a copy of the article “Careers for Mathematicians” by Sue Briault from the June 2008 issue of Mathematics Today. This was generally well received as I believe it offers well balanced, realistic careers advise for mathematics graduates.

IMA stall at Oxford Maths Options Fair

Mathematics Today June: University Liaison Officer’s Report

The following report is my report in Mathematics Today June.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activities March-April 2008

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

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

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

IMA Stickers

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

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

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

IMA on Facebook

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

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

Student Section of Mathematics Today

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

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