Friday, 23 October 2009

How to talk to girls at parties (or why we should all be proud to be mathematicians)

The title of this entry in my blog (at least the part not in brackets) refers to a short story by Neil Gaiman (one of my favourite authors The title has always resonated with me as like many other young men whilst growing up I always found it difficult to walk up to girls (or anyone in fact) introduce myself and just have a conversation with them. This problem was always compounded if I managed to start a conversation but it turned to what I did, for upon revealing I was a mathematician one of the person I was speaking to would usually do one of the following things (unless it was another mathematician I was speaking to):
• Say something polite but lose all interest in the conversation
• Walk away
• Choke on the bit of food they were currently swallowing
This of course had the effect of making me feel more awkward about talking with anyone at parties, and feeling a bit embarrassed about being a mathematician.
However, we should all be very proud of being mathematicians and be able to dazzle anyone we chat with about how special and important Maths is in the world without resorting to too much technical detail. A bit like Benedict Cumberbatch does in the TV movie Hawking when talking to a young lady in a pub.
There are resources you can use to make sure that you are armed at parties to talk about the importance of Science and Maths, should you find yourself in a situation similar to the one I describe above.
For instance there is Science and ( ) we have all seen the adverts on TV (well I have at least), stressing the importance of Science and Maths and how studying them can lead to a varied number of careers.
There is also an article in Maths article in a recent issue of Maths Today, the IMA’s ( main publication for members (note it is well worth joining the IMA just to get this magazine in my humble opinion) called ‘Being a School Speaker’. The article looks at how the ‘IMA School Speakers Scheme’, is helping pupils to understand the importance and the excitement of Mathematics.
There is also an article ( in the same issue of Maths Today, called ‘The Case for Supporting Mathematical Research in Mathematical Sciences’. The article looks at how Maths has supported cutting-edge technologies such as
• Digital Communications (particularly error
• Cryptography
• The Chemical and Pharmaceutical industry
• Google (Search Engines)
• Uncovering environmental trends
• Face recognition systems
• Understanding the Human Genome
There is also an article by WT Gowers describing the importance of mathematics and how it is used a video of which can be found here
These examples only touch on the number of articles etc. which discuss the importance of Mathematics and we need to highlight this importance too at those parties and other social events we may attend to make sure everyone gets the message. So if you are having a conversation with someone who looks at you a bit old fashioned then explain them (in articulated terms) about the excitement and the importance of Mathematics in the world. If they still do not want to talk to you then that person is not worth talking to at parties.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Continuing Professional Development

One of the key aspects of working today is that employers expect staff to continue their professional development (CPD) and gain professional status (such as chartership or accreditation). I have chartership C.Math with IMA ( and I am accredited with the Operational Research Society ( I thought I would use this Blog entry to discuss what I think CPD and professional status is and how I go about my CPD, this may aid you in understanding what professional development is and why it is necessary.

As part of the IMA, I get asked a lot of questions regarding professional awards and CPD that include:

• What is Chartership or Accreditation and why should I try to get it?
Professional status such as Chartership or Accreditation is recognition from your peer community that you have achieved a certain level of professional capability. The level of capability not only depends on your ability to use your chosen subject area, but also your ability to conduct yourself in a professional way with, colleagues, peers, employers, and customers. Professional qualifications allow your employers (or potential employers) to see that an external body has judged you to have certain appropriate skills appropriate to your development, your employers can then use this knowledge to make assessments of you and show to its customers that it employs professional people.

• What is CPD and why should I do it?
CPD is usually split (at least with the IMA) into Initial Professional Development and CPD.

Initial professional development defined by the IMA as: ‘a pattern of learning undertaken by a graduate mathematician to develop the range of skills and competencies needed to achieve professional status’, so this is CPD up to the point of achieving professional status.

The Continuing Professional institute ( defines CPD as: ‘Continuing professional development is the systematic maintenance and improvement of knowledge, skills and competence, and the enhancement of learning, undertaken by an individual throughout his or her working life’ The IMA discusses what they expect ( to be done to achieve CPD in the context of mathematics.

CPD is important to employers because customers are becoming more knowledgeable and demanding. The knowledge base of professions has also increased. This has led to, new markets, new areas of practice and new methods of working opening up. These changes require the development of knowledge and skills, to show increasing commitment to your career and show your employers and customers that you have the capability and flexibility to be a continued asset to them.

My CPD involves my work as a senior analyst, the courses I attend through my career and my activities with my professional societies.

Through my work. This may seem obvious but through my work (which involves solving problems though not always mathematical problems and the development of models), I learn and I develop. This not only involves mathematical learning but also development of professional skills and knowledge, for instance in the last year I have learnt about:
• Requirements Capture
• Psychology (as part of a literature review)
• Financing
• Improvement processes (to aid the development of the operational analysis group in the company I work for)

Courses. Each year I attend a number of courses to maintain and extend my professional development, which allows me to maintain and develop my skills in Mathematics, Communications and leadership. In 2009 this included:
• Linear Statistical Modelling (this is my current course with the open university which allows me to maintain and develop my mathematical skills)
• Report writing course (which helped me to maintain and develop my report writing skills
• Communications workshop

Involvement in the mathematics and operational research communities. As a member of the IMA and the OR Society I undertake a number of activities to maintain my professional network, promote the subjects I work in to potential customers, and be seen as a presence in my chosen field. In 2009 this has included:
• Hosting the 10th Younger Mathematicians Conference (, which allowed me to practice my communication skills to a large audience
• Organising the Young OR conference 2009 ( as program chair which involved communicating with a number of OR academics and practitioners.
• Presentation on Odds ratios at the Young OR conference 2009. This allowed me to show my presentation skills and show my knowledge

Please note that are all of the above are my own personal opinions and not necessarily the opinion of the’ Institute of Mathematics and its Applications’ or any other organisation I may have mentioned.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

New Conferences and Money

The IMA website has a number of useful resources for mathematicians. One of the things that the IMA offers is the small grants scheme the purpose of which is to facilitate research activity in applied mathematics ( The scheme allows mathematicians to apply for small sums (up to £600) too support research activities (such as workshops conferences, talks, research etc.). You need to fill in a form and at least one of the applicants must be a member of the IMA. However if you are a strapped for cash mathematics researcher wanting a bit more funding for a specific Maths activity this might be worth checking out.

The IMA Younger 11th Younger Mathematicians Conference is up coming in November 2009 see for more information. There are a number of excellent speakers including
· Dr Nilgun Canakgoz, Lloyd's Franchise Performance
· Dr Jonathan Carter, Imperial College, London
· Dr William Parnell, Manchester University
· Zia Rahman, Careers Coordinator, More Maths Grads
· Makhan Singh, National Project Manager, More Maths Grads
· Dr David J Smith, Birmingham University
· Professor Peter Styring, Sheffield University: EPSRC Senior Media Fellow, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, Professor of Public Engagement
· Helen Thornewell, Surrey University
I do hope that many of you will attend.

I thought I would discuss some money saving tips as part of this blog. One of the problems with us mathematicians (OK not all of us but definitely some of us) is we become too involved with the problems we want to solve and do not think about things like finances.
In recent years I have been using the Money saving websites, (and there are many other sites out there). I have found these to be a godsend in helping to control household budgets and not overspend on things like
· Shopping
· Insurance
· Meals Out
· Electricity
The websites also very useful for dealing with credit card debt and provide useful information on mortgages and banking amongst others. I do recommend you look at these sites if you are not aware of them and try a few of the ideas presented in them. However one word of warning be careful and do not rush into anything too quickly (make sure you check all the facts and get all relevant information).

The following may also be of interest to those thinking about doing a degree but are concerned about the debt they may be in when leaving University. Over the last few years I have been undertaking a part time statistics course with the Open University (OU,, partially to keep up with my Continuing Professional Development (CPD-More on this in the next Blog). My, courses with the OU require me to spend approximately 9 hours per week (on top of my 37-hour working week) across 9 months of the year, and this can go up to 16 hours per week (for larger courses). It does not sound too appealing does it, and to be honest there have been times where I have felt the strain, but it really just requires determination (it take between 6-12 years to do a degree with the Open University assuming you do one course per year) and effort. Now I am not advocating the Open University as there are other internet sites (such as where you can learn, however if you are working and paying for your studies at the same this at least will reduce (if not completely obliterate) the amount of debt you are in by the end of the course. It will also show to potential employers that you are committed to your job, your professional development and that you have real world experience from your job. Distance learning may not be right for everyone but it is something you can consider.

My next Blog will focus on what I do for Continuing Professional Development and why it is important.

Please note that are all of the above are my own personal opinions and not necessarily the opinion of the’ Institute of Mathematics and its Applications’ or any other organisation I may have mentioned.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Musings on Mathematics

Here are some of my musing of the past few weeks.

A review of the 10th Younger Mathematicians Conference (held in Oxford May 2009) can be found here Have a read through as I think it might convince many of you to attend the next. Information on how to book up for the November 2009 Conference (to be held in Birmingham) is given here .

Finally, some sense in the world, the Mathematician Alan Turing gets a posthumous apology. However, it is a sad reminder of how not very long ago even laws were very bigoted. Read the full story here,

In March I attended the 16th Young Operational Research Conference which was held in Warwick, where I sat on the ‘Careers Panel ‘. One of the topics discussed was Chartership (and in the case of the OR Society Accreditation) and whether such professional qualifications were necessary. Whilst it does seem to be true, that few companies currently require professional qualifications. However, there are several good reasons why I believe professional status is a good thing to have on your CV:
· Shows a commitment to your own continuing professional development to the company you work for;
· Helps your company to show its customer that they employ professional who continue to maintain and develop their own skills;
· Helps show potential employers that you have wide range of skills and a commitment to your continued professional development.

For Mathematics and Operational research, it is also important because many other subjects (outside of these two) have had Chartership or professional status for years, which are completely understood and accepted by companies and help them when recruiting staff. We (in Maths and OR) are therefore lagging behind a bit and need to explain to our companies why Professional status is so important (and perhaps get them to pay for it).
I came across this the other day it looks to be a good source for science and Mathematics News

Please note that are all of the above are my own personal opinions and not necessarily the opinion of the’ Institute of Mathematics and its Applications’ or any other organisation I may have mentioned.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

An Introduction

This is my first post. My intention with this Blog is to talk about issues in Mathematics which since I turned 18 has taken up a large part of my Life. Sources for articles will come from

The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) Council (which I sit on as a Councillor)

The Younger Mathematicians Group (which I currently chair)

The North Hants, Surrey and Berkshire Branch of the IMA (which I helped form in 2001)

The Operational Research Society (which I have helped organise two conferences with)

Open University ( which I am currently taking a third degree with)

My work and my life (more on that later)