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.