The post Rebranding mathematics as a superpower we can all learn – Fiona Tatton, Womanthology Editor appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>Hello and welcome to issue 76, * Women in Maths*. I’ve been chatting to some of the best mathematicians in the world and it turns out that maths is all around us. Who knew? Maths is incredibly powerful too. Putting this edition together I’ve learnt that you can, with logical argument alone, show that something is true – always, anywhere, in any language and for all time. (Thank you to Professor Sarah Hart for sharing that one.)

Why did nobody tell me that when I was in my teens? If you want to get teenage girls to study something, just tell them that it will help them win any argument for life and maths classrooms would be packed to the rafters.

I hadn’t realised the significance of maths in computing either until I spoke to Professor Cheryl Praeger. Maths is behind all the algorithms that make computers work so anything that involves computing and tech needs maths. It’s so obvious when you think about it, but so often maths is presented as a series of dull exercises that bear little relation to real life. In reality, if you can do maths you are essentially able to invent the future. Wow.

This issue we also look again at Citizen Maths, a free course that helps people who want to revisit their maths from school. Nicky Mitchell tells us about using it to get over her maths anxiety. Let’s face it, for those who didn’t choose a STEM route, who ** can’t** remember the horror of the classroom and the fear of being asked to answer a question when you had no proper understanding of the concepts being discussed?

I read somewhere online that it takes up to six positive comments to offset one negative one, so let’s face it, if your lived experience of maths is painful and unpleasant (and you feel you’ve been let down in the past), it’s going to take an investment of a lot of emotional energy, faith and trust into overcome this. It’s important to surround yourself with supportive and patient people too. But there’s a powerful incentive to overcome your maths demons when you can work towards exchanging them for the comfort that familiarity with numbers brings.

I’ve always been numerate. I worked in a bank for six years in the holidays whilst I was studying – when you’re dishing out somebody else’s cash and you’ve got to balance your till at the end of the day your mind focuses very quickly. Similarly, when I worked in a hotel bar during the summer holidays when I was at university I became good at adding up in my head, and I got fast, as it made my life easier because it enabled me to keep queues of punters baying for alcohol under control. It was almost Darwinian – I was adapting to survive.

I studied business at university and in my first year ‘quantitative methods’ programme was compulsory. The teaching was dry and I found it pretty grim, but it wasn’t until I’d passed the exam at the end of the year that a tutor told me that I’d attained the equivalent of A-level statistics. I’m convinced I wouldn’t have passed if I’d been told that before the exam. It we build something up to be big and scary, guest what? It becomes big and scary, whereas if we treat something as no big deal and take the pressure out of the situation, we can succeed.

This brings me to another important point that I’ve learnt as I’ve been putting Womanthology together, the idea of all mathematicians being statistical geniuses who sit doing complex calculations all day and then congratulating themselves on how well they have done is a complete myth. And you don’t need to have wild hair, a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches to do maths.

You don’t need to be dead either, but it would appear to help. Maths in school was a lot about people like Pythagoras, who were, surprise surprise, mainly men, and who were well, mainly dead. Strangely enough, as a female teenager I didn’t feel like I had much in common with an old Greek man who died in 495 BC. Had there been a few plucky women I could relate to I might have done better. I didn’t learn about Ada Lovelace properly until I chatted to Suw Charman-Anderson in 2015.

When I was at school if I had been told about a woman who was referred to by Charles Babbage as “Enchantress of Numbers”, I might have been more inclined to sit up and take notice. She sounded like someone worth hearing about, but until recently, like so many amazing women, she was kept almost secret.

So, the way we feel about a subject is a lot about the way it is presented to us. If we make maths something that is relevant to our lives, and we also change the way we study it, we can make a huge difference. Valerie Vincent from The Compton School is a brilliant example of someone who has come into teaching from industry so she is able to demonstrate the application of maths, and teach using video and software. Can you imagine if all you remember about maths was flipped on its head and it became your favourite subject because you were essentially learning a superpower?

In conclusion, maths is only as ‘scary’ as we, or the people around us, make it. The people who we placed on pedestals as being ‘maths geniuses’ in school had probably weren’t geniuses at all – they had just been taught that succeeding mathematics isn’t about knowing all the answers, it’s about how you behave when you don’t know them. A Chinese proverb says: “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.” So, it’s about involving learners.

What if being good at maths became a superpower to be revered? The good news is that mathematics is a superpower we can all learn.

The post Rebranding mathematics as a superpower we can all learn – Fiona Tatton, Womanthology Editor appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post Going further to break down gender stereotypes in maths – Claire Baldwin, Central Coordinator for the Further Mathematics Support Programme appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…The number of girls taking A-level Mathematics has increased from around 19,000 in 2003 to almost 36,000 last year – an increase of 85%. The numbers for Further Mathematics are even more encouraging, increasing from just under 1,500 in 2003 to over 4,200 in 2016 meaning participation by girls almost trebled during this period…”

I enjoyed studying mathematics at school and, of all my subjects, it was the one that stood out as being my favourite. I remember learning about matrices and being fascinated by how they could be used both to solve simultaneous equations but also to represent a geometrical transformation – different areas of mathematics (number, geometry and algebra) all seemed to come together so simply in one relatively basic idea!

As well as studying mathematics, I enjoyed explaining how it worked and it was a natural progression to go into teaching. As I was planning to study a degree in mathematics I decided to take A-level Further Mathematics as well as A-level Mathematics. At the time, I found this a very steep learning curve and some aspects of Further Mathematics were very challenging.

I was the only girl in my Further Mathematics class, which was a big change having attended a girls’ school up to the age of 16. Nevertheless, I enjoyed studying two A-levels in mathematics and it was hugely beneficial in the transition to university, where I found that I was already familiar with many of the first-year topics.

Further Mathematics is an AS or A-level subject that is taken alongside AS or A-level Mathematics. It offers students the scope to add depth and breadth to their study of the subject and is great preparation for future study in mathematics and related subjects such as physics, engineering, economics or sciences.

I was very lucky to have the opportunity to study Further Mathematics as one of my A-levels, which at the time wasn’t available to all students. Over the last ten years the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP) has worked with schools and colleges to promote the importance of further mathematics and to support teacher professional development and provide tuition so that students can take the subject.

In 2005 only around 40% of schools and colleges which offered A-level Mathematics also offered Further Mathematics; this proportion is now 70%. The FMSP can provide support to all schools that are not able to offer Further Mathematics ‘in house’ currently.

The FMSP was established, initially as the Further Mathematics Network, over ten years ago, with the aim of providing tuition for students whose school or college is not able to offer the subject. The work of the FMSP has expanded to include providing a wide range of subject based professional development for teachers of mathematics, liaison with universities and raising awareness of strategies to increase girls’ participation in advanced level mathematics.

My role at the FMSP is very varied. It includes liaising with universities to share information about the latest developments in post-16 mathematics education and the latest statistics about the increased levels of participation in mathematics.

It is vital that universities make clear in their entry requirements and admissions information the importance of mathematical skills for their particular degree course, be it engineering, physics, mathematics, other sciences, geography, economics, psychology … the list is endless!

I also have responsibility for promoting greater participation by girls in advanced level mathematics courses. The FMSP has worked with UCL Institute of Education (IOE) to complete two pieces of research – a gender literature review and a series of five good practice case studies, both of which highlight the things that schools, colleges, parents and teachers can do to encourage girls to study A-levels in Mathematics and Further Mathematics.

We have shared the recommendations arising from these research studies with teachers and senior leaders in our Girls’ Participation in A-level Mathematics and Further Mathematics Briefing Document – this includes factors such as the importance of a whole-school culture in secondary schools which promotes post-16 study of advanced level Mathematics from Year 7 onwards, as well as the importance of engaging with parents and carers about promoting a positive message about studying mathematics post-GCSE.

These documents, and lots of other useful information for teachers, parents and others interested in our work in this field can be found on our website: furthermaths.org.uk/encouraging-girls-maths. We have also produced a useful webpage of information for female students considering studying mathematics A levels: furthermaths.org.uk/girls-maths.

The number of girls taking A-level Mathematics has increased from around 19,000 in 2003 to almost 36,000 last year – an increase of 85%. The numbers for Further Mathematics are even more encouraging, increasing from just under 1,500 in 2003 to over 4,200 in 2016 meaning participation by girls almost trebled during this period. However, data (summarised in the briefing document mentioned above) shows that boys are around twice as likely to choose A-level Mathematics as one of their A level subjects than girls, and are over 3.5 times more likely to choose Further Mathematics.

Research suggests this may be because girls attain a higher proportion of A and A* GCSE grades across the range of subjects they take and therefore have more possible choices available to them for A-level study. There is also a suggestion that girls may see post-16 study of mathematics as more of a risk compared to other subjects. We would encourage teachers and parents to reassure able girls throughout their secondary school studies of mathematics (and earlier!) that they are capable of achieving advanced level mathematics qualifications and emphasise the huge range of potential careers for which it would be a valuable qualification.

Carol Dweck’s important work in this area suggests that having a fixed mindset – where people believe qualities such as their intelligence are fixed – can stand in the way of being successful. She argues that a growth mindset – in which intelligence and skills can be developed through hard work – and the building of resilience are essential for attaining desired goals.

This is a message that I have always tried to promote in my teaching of mathematics, especially post-16. Sometimes students have found GCSE quite easy and, when they commence their A-level studies and find the subject more demanding, feel they are no longer as good a mathematician as they thought they were.

In fact, I think everyone reaches the stage in their mathematical education where there is a hurdle – for me it was A-level, for some of my friends it was GCSE or degree level study. Accepting that ‘getting it right first time’ won’t always be possible, and that in fact making mistakes can be a much more valuable learning experience, is key. Since research shows that girls generally have a lower self-concept than boys in relation to mathematics, stressing the importance of developing resilience is especially important for parents and teachers working with girls.

Research studies have shown that students can often find it difficult to name careers in which mathematics is a useful or vital qualification – often the careers named are limited to teacher or accountant, whereas in reality there are a vast range of careers for which mathematical skills are fundamental.

Good careers advice can make this clear to students from an early age and support them in making good choices for their future study. There are sometimes misconceptions about A-level choices, for example that taking Further Mathematics would mean that a student was unable to progress to a career in medicine (see furthermaths.org.uk/medicine for more guidance on this topic), which research has shown may be a barrier to some girls’ participation in Further Mathematics.

Additionally, the stereotype of engineering being a subject for boys is hopefully now outdated, but students may not be aware of the wide range of different types of engineering and the huge range of applications. In our advice leaflet for students and on our website we illustrate some of the many, varied careers which use mathematics from working as a statistician for the NHS Blood and Transplant service to using cryptography to provide high levels of security for services such as online shopping.

The FMSP hopes to continue its work over the coming years, in order to ensure that all students who wish to do so have the opportunity to study Further Mathematics to AS or A-level. This is especially the case in areas where levels of participation in these subjects is low and we will continue to focus on increasing the proportion of girls who choose these subjects.

In addition, with the new Mathematics GCSE being taken for the first time this summer, and new AS and A-level qualifications in Mathematics and Further Mathematics being introduced from September 2017, we will be busy working with teachers to support the implementation of these changes and continuing to provide Further Mathematics tuition for students who are not currently able to access it in their own school or college.

From a personal point of view, when I started teaching twenty years ago I could not have envisaged what a diverse career I would have. I have been lucky enough to teach in comprehensives, a grammar school, a Further Education College, a Sixth Form College and have worked in teacher training at a Higher Education Institution.

In my current role, all of the skills I have developed over the years and the experience I have gained have come together in a really diverse and varied role with the FMSP. I am looking forward to continuing working with local schools and teachers, especially in the North West, where I am based, and being part of the drive to support and promote participation in these subjects which I feel formed such a huge part of my own personal and educational development.

https://twitter.com/furthermaths

https://www.facebook.com/MEIMaths

Main image – Dr. Hannah Fry speaking at a Further Mathematics Support Programme event

The post Going further to break down gender stereotypes in maths – Claire Baldwin, Central Coordinator for the Further Mathematics Support Programme appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post Celebrating Pi Day and using STEAM to engage people in science the same way they engage in art – Kristine Bauer, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Calgary appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…you can’t have brand new ideas coming from a limited segment of the population who all have the same kind of experience and background … the subtle differences between men and women mean we work differently and our contributions contrast in a way that is fresh and original…”

The first time I knew that math made me happy I was still in high school. One snow day when school was cancelled, rather than slip back to sleep I worked on a puzzle that I heard on the radio. Take nine dots, arrange them in three rows and three columns so that they form a square. Without lifting your pencil from the paper, connect all of the dots using only four straight lines. When I solved the problem, it made me really happy. Later on, I realised that this is exactly the same feeling you get when you solve a tricky math problem.

As an undergraduate at Vassar College, I had a mentor, Professor John McCleary, who helped me become acquainted with knot theory. At first I tried to focus on the applications of this kind of math – I thought the real-world applications would motivate me to continue. In the end, I realised that my love of math stems from that initial satisfaction I had from having solved that first puzzle. I’m driven by what I see as beautiful – solving a problem is like putting things together the right way. At the end, the pieces fit and it is beautiful.

At the University of Calgary, my day to day activities from September to April involve as much teaching as research. Teaching is incredibly rewarding, especially when I am able to share my favourite things with students. When I explain something to students, it’s like I have to relive the experience of learning the material for the first time all over again – so I still get that sense of satisfaction from setting things right. When my students have that “a-ha” moment it’s like I can feel it too; they get excited, I get excited, and it goes on and on. It’s such a positive feeling.

When I work on my research, the setting is quite different. To concentrate on a problem, I need quiet at the start so I’m usually alone in my office or in the library. I enjoy collaborating with others. On my best days, once I’ve got the problem in my head you’ll find me at my chalk board with colleagues, or else at my computer in a video chat.

For me that’s the most enjoyable way to solve a problem, by exchanging and building on one another’s ideas. This is perhaps not what other mathematicians enjoy; I think the standard vision of how math is done is by one bright guy working alone. There are a lot of times when I work by myself because I need to grapple with understanding something, but being alone for too long doesn’t suit my personality. I always come back to working in teams because I find that experience more rewarding.

My area of research is algebraic topology. Topology is the study of shapes and surfaces with no distance measurement. In topology, two things are the same if you can deform one into the other without tearing or gluing. We often joke that a topologist is someone who can’t tell the difference between a coffee cup and a doughnut since you can deform the cup onto its handle, which is the same shape as the doughnut.

I was drawn to topology because of the time I spent working with knots as an undergraduate. Although I was initially drawn to these objects because I could draw them and visualise them, I soon found that I was really limited by depending on this visualisation.

In algebraic topology, we use algebra (think of polynomials) to classify the features of topological spaces without having to have a picture of the space – this is useful when the shapes aren’t one, two or three dimensional.

In homotopy theory, our “spaces” are infinite dimensional, so visualising the objects is really out of the question. The relationship between algebra and topology really goes two ways: we use algebra to observe and describe topology, and we use techniques from topology to approach questions originating in algebra. The latter thing is what my work is about.

I think that it’s important to have diverse participation in any work that requires more than one person’s ideas. That covers virtually everything. Diversity creates original ideas – you can’t have brand new ideas coming from a limited segment of the population who all have the same kind of experience and background.

I recently saw a talk by Fields Medalist, Manjul Bhargava, in which he explained how the Fibonacci sequence – the sequence of numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13,… can be seen in a way that is unfamiliar to most mathematicians. It arises naturally in the structure of drumming and poetry in India. This change of perspective allows a mathematician to manipulate this structure in new ways, and can be the thing that inspires innovative solutions to hard problems.

We have to acknowledge that our experience as women is different from our male colleague’s experience. It is hard to put a finger on exactly which parts of our experience will turn into that creative solution, because so much of our experience is shared with the men around us and it isn’t always easy to see what makes us different and special. But the subtle differences between men and women mean we work differently and our contributions contrast in a way that is fresh and original.

For me, the thing that makes math fun and drives me to keep going is working collaboratively on problems. A few years ago, while talking with some of my colleagues, an idea evolved amongst us about what to do to retain women in math.

Some of my colleagues had been involved in collaborative projects only amongst women – the idea being that these projects would be fun, would naturally build in mentorship of younger women by more experienced colleagues, and would result in original solutions to problems and publications that would mean that everyone involved had one more paper with which to survive in the publish-or-perish culture of the academy.

Four of us in my field of research decided to try to put something together for algebraic topologists. We recruited team leaders to pitch open problems and assembled teams including women from all stages of their careers to work together.

Over the course of 18 months everyone on the team engaged in the training you need to attack an unsolved problem; all of the teams met in Banff, in Alberta, Canada for one week to work on solutions, and every team wrote a professional paper which reported their final findings and were published in a volume called **“Women in Topology: Collaborations in Homotopy Theory”.**

Some of the teams continued to collaborate and wrote multiple papers. Two years later, we started working on a second workshop and found that the number of qualified women in the field who wanted to participate had doubled since our first workshop. We are just about to finish the volume for the second workshop, and the quality of papers is extremely high – collectively, our work seems to be getting better and better.

I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with some scientists and fantastic local bakers at a community event to support Beakerhead. Beakerhead brings together the arts and engineering sectors from across the city, province, country and world to build, compete and exhibit interactive works of art and entertainment, culminating in a five-day international phenomenon of art, culture, science and technology every September.

From outdoor artworks and late-night laboratories, to community contests and celebrations, interactive digital events to event premieres, Beakerhead is a crucible for human ingenuity. Since its inception four years ago, Beakerhead has grown to offer engaging science discovery opportunities throughout the year and includes a science outreach partnership with schools.

**Using STEAM to engage people in science the same way they engage in art**

Calgary is a great place to be a scientist, with Beakerhead offering so many opportunities for people to engage in science the same way they engage in art – for fun, for curiosity and for community.

One of the reasons I love Beakerhead’s STEAM approach to science is that it incorporates the best of the cultural norms we already have for approaching art and science separately. Scientists observe the natural world using whatever method of observation they can, and Beakerhead’s approach brings this to art displays as well by encouraging patrons of its art displays to touch the art. Most art museums I’ve been to would frown on this.

On the other hand, Beakerhead’s science is a far cry from what you might find in a dry textbook or a lecture hall. My first Beakerhead math experience was a life-size cube within a cube presented by my colleague, Clifton Cunningham, who performed as a science busker at the Beakerhead street festival.

The math he was using – which was about loops in the space of rotations of three-dimensional Euclidean space – was a magic trick about knotting and unknotting strings attaching the corners of the cubes. It was fun, tactile, engaging and didn’t involve a single formula or equation. This best-of-both-worlds approach encourages people to ask questions and look for deeper meaning and understanding in things they can see and understand. In the end, that means it makes the community more scientific.

March 14^{th} is Pi Day. The holiday is a bit of a joke – the date when written in the Canadian / US format 3/14 resembles the first few digits of pi, 3.14.

This year I was incredibly fortunate to be able to participate in a Beakerhead pi party where we teamed up with a local bakery, Crave Cupcakes, to make pies and pi for Pi Day. The amazing ladies at Crave taught the partygoers how to make the best pie crusts, and everyone went home with six pies.

My colleague, Clifton Cunningham, (the same colleague who first introduced me to Beakerhead) and I set out some Genius Challenges and kept everyone mathematically entertained. One challenge was a competition to see who could cut out circular pie shells from a big circle of dough with the least waste. This is a surprisingly difficult problem that is part of a family of problems known as circle or sphere packing.

In another demonstration, we saw that the random distribution of candles lying flat on a cake for Einstein’s birthday is related to pi. If you cut the rectangular cake into strips, the probability that the candles cross the strips is related to the number pi. Since Pi Day is also Einstein’s birthday, it was a nice tribute. And Crave awarded Einstein cupcakes to the winners of the challenges.

This was my first Beakerhead event, but I doubt it will be my last. Anyone who happens to be in Calgary, Alberta from September 13^{th} – 17^{th} this year will likely find themselves immersed in art and science collisions across 60+ unique events. This year I’ll be there as a patron of the sciences rather than a performer or artist, but who knows? Maybe next year you’ll find me on Stephens Avenue hawking my algebraic topology wares.

For a more descriptive listing of upcoming events, or to get involved, head to Beakerhead.com. I know the Beakerhead team is always receptive to ideas about community science engagement!

http://math.ucalgary.ca/math_unitis/profiles/kristine-bauer

https://twitter.com/beakerhead

https://www.facebook.com/beakerhead

https://www.instagram.com/beakerhead/

Torus image credit: By LucasVB [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The post Celebrating Pi Day and using STEAM to engage people in science the same way they engage in art – Kristine Bauer, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Calgary appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post Using innovative teaching approaches to bring maths to life – Valerie Vincent, Maths Teacher at The Compton School appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…In schools, as well as at home, girls and boys should be treated equally when it comes to expectations, support and opportunities…”

After obtaining my Master’s degree in engineering, I worked for a year in a London-based company, designing rainwater and greywater systems. I then moved back to France to work for Airbus in Toulouse where I was helping with the project management of the fire detection and fire protection systems for the new A320 Neo aircraft.

Being part of such a successful company was exciting and I was glad to play a part in the design of a new technology system. At the same time, I was volunteering once a week for a charity helping disadvantaged teenagers with homework. I had always kept the idea of becoming a teacher in my mind and this voluntary work made me realise that teaching young people was what I really wanted to do. Being part of a multi-national company was good, but having a direct impact on children’s lives and their ability to achieve was amazing.

I decided to go back to the UK and, after a few months, I heard about the ** Get into Teaching **campaign, which presented the perfect opportunity for me. I visited several schools and spent a week at The Compton School in North Finchley, Barnet. I loved it and decided to apply for The Compton SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher Training) to train as a maths teacher. The year was intense but the quality of the training as well as the support I received were both excellent.

I have been working as a fully qualified teacher for two years now, and I have even started teaching A-level maths this year. I am so pleased with my choice to become a maths teacher!

On a day-to-day basis, my time is mostly divided between teaching, planning and creating resources, and marking. I also spend time running clubs, communicating with parents or other members of the school about children’s progress and taking part in meetings and CPD (continuing professional development) training sessions.** **

At The Compton, innovative approaches are shared, discussed and used in the classroom. The Teaching and Learning team is very pro-active in learning about new relevant publications or research which is then shared with the rest of the school through CPD sessions or in the Teaching and Learning newsletter, published every half term.

Equally, the Compton SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher Training) works in parallel with the Teaching and Learning team to make sure that innovative approaches are taught to future teachers. As a result, both the school and the SCITT have been rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted.

Currently the uptake of girls choosing to study A-level maths and physics is low and we all need to work on addressing this. Our society is making progress in the right direction in terms of gender equality, but there are still inequalities in the workplace.

Even today, the majority of executive positions, and especially the ones related to new technologies, are held by men. Because so few women are present in these industries, girls are not necessarily attracted to these kinds of jobs as they struggle to identify with the current workforce. This is a vicious circle – fewer girls will be choosing to study scientific topics and fewer women will be working in the scientific world. But I would like to see this reverse in future, replacing the “fewer” with “more”.

To achieve this, we have to act both in schools and in the professional world. In schools, as well as at home, girls and boys should be treated equally when it comes to expectations, support and opportunities. Instilling confidence in girls is crucial for them to develop an “I can do it’’ mindset, which is key to learning in maths or physics.

For me, as a teacher, linking maths concepts to real life is key to students’ enjoyment of the subject and enables them to understand why mathematical knowledge is so important in everyday life.

During my lessons, students apply concepts that they have just learnt to real life problems. As an example, my GCSE students use 3D Pythagoras to work out the length of the vertices of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and my Key Stage 3 students use coordinates to work out the location of a Mayan lost city.

I also try to apply these concepts to teaching A-level. For example, I recently used the trajectory of a cartoon character to explain the use of parametric equations. I also think that asking students to link their own interests to maths is a great way to make them curious and want to learn even more. Last year, my Year 9 students made some amazing presentations about maths and music, maths and cipher, maths and bees and maths and beauty.

Colourful and interesting corridor displays are another perfect way to ignite students’ curiosity about maths. The following are all displays that the maths department created for the corridor this year:

- “How does Google know where I am?’’
- “How old is this mummy?’’
- “How can I score the perfect penalty?’’
- “How can I predict the future?’’

New resources and technology, such as interactive whiteboards, are an excellent way to bring maths to life in the classroom. Being able to show videos and use specific maths tools directly on the board are great ways to make maths more interactive. At the Compton, we also have a lesson in an ICT classroom every two weeks with each of our classes.

The students really enjoy these lessons and they get to use maths specific software such as ** MyMaths**,

I feel that it is very important to help students understand how they could use maths in their career. They often think that what they learn in class will not be transferrable to everyday life. Students need to see how maths is necessary and used every day in many careers such as hospitality, retail, banking, medicine, engineering, design and architecture. Linking maths concepts to real-life situations inspires students and helps them realise the importance of these concepts to their future careers.

Looking to the future, in July 2017, another teacher and I will be taking 16 A-level students to Ghana, where we will be helping two local schools, building classrooms, teaching and delivering school equipment. I am looking forward to this trip and I am sure that the students will learn a lot from this life experience.

Next year, I am looking forward to carrying on teaching Key Stages 3, 4 and A-level at The Compton, ready to encourage more girls to follow and enjoy a scientific path.

In 2018, The Compton will be opening a new free school. This is an excellent opportunity to allow collaborative teaching between the two schools, making sure that more and more students are being taught with the outstanding methods already in place at The Compton.

*Interested in inspiring children to get into maths? To find out more and explore your options as a teacher, contact the Get Into Teaching line on 0800 389 2500 or visit **getintoteaching.education.gov.uk**.** *

*There is a particular demand for teachers in a range of subjects, including; maths, physics, chemistry, computing, geography, biology and languages. Free workshops are being held offering one-to-one support with your application to teacher training: **getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/teaching-events/application-workshop-events**.*

https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk

https://twitter.com/getintoteaching

https://www.facebook.com/getintoteaching

https://www.youtube.com/user/getintoteaching

The Great Pyramid of Giza image credit: Nina at the Norwegian bokmål language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The post Using innovative teaching approaches to bring maths to life – Valerie Vincent, Maths Teacher at The Compton School appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post New opportunities that add up for women in engineering – Rachel Skinner, Executive Director & Head of Development at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…In the world of civil engineering, good writing and presenting skills are at a premium, and they are a genuinely valuable commodity, so we need people who can do both – understanding numbers and being able to explain what they’ve found in a coherent way is incredibly powerful…”

I fell into engineering completely by chance. I have science based A-levels, including maths, and I’d graduated with a degree in geography. I found a graduate role with a consultancy firm that happened to offer me a role in transport planning, and the rest is history! I started off as a transport planner and worked my way up through the business, with new roles every few years.

I’d say I’ve never been bored and I’ve always found new challenges to keep me interested. I’ve moved around several different UK offices and increased my responsibility levels throughout that time. In the meantime, the company I started out working for has been acquired, and re-acquired, and re-acquired, so having started off in a company of about 800 people, I now work in an organisation that’s close to 40,000 people. Learning and ‘growing up’ within that structure has been a huge opportunity.

In addition to my day job, I’ve also been involved with the ICE (Institution of Civil Engineers) for about 15 years since becoming chartered. I’ve also enjoyed starting up – and then leading – the Women’s Transportation Seminar network in London, which is still going strong after 12 years.

I now lead my company’s Development business of around 800 people. Together, we provide consultancy support to help our clients in the UK and overseas to bring forward development, regeneration and infrastructure projects at all scales across the private and public sectors.

I’ve used maths in all sort of ways throughout my career. Starting at the more junior end of the spectrum, one of the things I was involved with as a graduate was transport modelling. This is a highly numerical field, using computer software to come up with different options to test and explore, before evaluating the options in a consistent way to work out what the best solution might be. For transport planners, this generally involves thinking carefully about vehicle flows and safety. There are some really exciting developments in this area now, as we are starting to consider how new driverless technologies will affect future mobility, routes and places.

As far as maths goes, the software gets you so far, but there’s a need for common sense checking and understanding about the sort of answer you’re looking for, from first principles. You need to have a good grasp of the concepts in order to be able to make sense of what you’re trying to do. As I got more senior, my role evolved to include checking of work done by others.

I’ve also done things like acting as a public inquiry witness, where the numbers really, really do matter as other people are scrutinising them as you’re trying to put your case across, and there are big decisions made about whether your projects can or can’t go forward. An awful lot of that boils down to numbers, in some way, shape or form. Again, it’s about common sense – what sort of number am I expecting here? Does it make sense? If not, what’s wrong?

As time has gone on, I’ve had a lot more involvement in budgeting and the more commercial side of things in terms of actually doing business and bidding for work. At this stage, it’s about how to put together a cost proposal to ensure you meet the clients’ needs but also make a fair return, which is clearly important in a consultancy business!

Now, I’m responsible for a multi-million pound budget, and understanding what goes into that and what will make a difference to delivering in line with targeted figures. It’s not direct maths, but indirectly it’s absolutely all about the numbers and how they all fit together.

On the one hand, the maths and numbers bit is really important, but a much rarer skill is to be able to communicate on the basis of what you’ve found. In the world of civil engineering, good writing and presenting skills are at a premium, and they are a genuinely valuable commodity, so we need people who can do both – understanding numbers and being able to explain what they’ve found in a coherent way is incredibly powerful.

In the engineering world that I live in, many people have highly numerical engineering degrees, but there is clearly a place for people with other skillsets including maths, geography and similar.

From a civil engineering perspective, we as an industry need to make much more effort to help people understand what it is that we do, because at the moment, whether you’re talking about applying maths or other skills, it’s pretty difficult for anybody sitting on the outside to really understand the various career options and roles.

There’s a wealth of material out there from a perspective of STEM careers, and from an engineering point of view there’s potentially an advantage that everything you see all around you has been shaped by civil engineers in some way. But somehow, we don’t seem to have made the link back to the people with relevant skillsets beyond pure engineering, in terms of saying: “You’re exactly the sort of person who could do well in the industry.”

For me, it’s a two-way street because part of it is about making sure that the parents and teachers understand more about the sorts of careers that exist within various areas, including civil engineering, but equally it’s about making sure that the messages that are linked to that actually make sense and are attractive.

We need to make sure that kids moving up through school and coming out and going on to college or university actually understand what opportunities are open to them. With civil engineering, because it’s about everything around you, it’s almost *too* big and it’s difficult because people usually don’t have any direct experience of working with engineering professionals.

We know what doctors and dentists do because we visit them from a very early age, so we understand the context in which we might need one, but I’m not sure that many of us have had many times in our lives where we’ve had to say: “Wow, I really need a civil engineer!” It’s not the thing you necessarily see on an individual basis in the same way, which makes it incredibly challenging to communicate.

There’s no lack of material out there, and if only we could get better at curating it we could do a lot better for people who are trying to make more informed choices about careers. I suspect that there is too much, in fact, possibly to the point that it’s overwhelming for those who try to find out more. How on earth do you know when you’ve found the good stuff? We don’t offer a clear signpost to say: “If you watch or read nothing else, take a look at this.

In recent decades, we’ve been seeing an increasing use of technology and in particular, software in the sector and the consultancy environment. Beyond that there’s increasing use of technology when we get to the construction stage, so there’s all kinds of new systems-based technology which all connects up together as well, which means that technically, almost anybody can do anything.

It means that things that would typically always have been a bit more challenging for girls to associate with are now much more of a level playing field. From a consultancy point of view, if you’ve got the core of those skills, the range of projects you’re able to work is incredibly broad on because you’re able to adapt across different pieces of software and you aren’t pigeon-holed at all in terms of project types or sectors.

For those who are really keen to dive into detailed and creative applied mathematics, these opportunities also exist, not just in modelling but also in economic appraisal and similar. There are plenty of people who follow a career path in this space, building their skills right at the cutting edge.

Maths is about the different ways of trying similar things and about how to get past something difficult when you hit an obstacle. I think there’s a perception that you have to be *really *good at maths to do things like engineering when actually, a lot of roles don’t need a lot of maths at all.

As I’ve already said, some of the core material and basic common sense is important, but you haven’t got to be an ‘expert’ in any specific area as the range of roles is large. You can also grow new skills over time, perhaps picking up things that you’d previously have written off as beyond your ability. You’re learning all the time from colleagues and everybody around you. Who knows where it might lead…?

The first thing I would say is that career progressions tends to happen when you’re having fun and you’re enthusiastic about what you’re doing.

One of the key messages I heard from the senior people around me at the start of my career was that *you’re* in charge of *your own* career. Other people can help you, and they can mentor you and so on, but actually you are the one who has to make things happen, rather than waiting for things to happen to you.

Sometimes other people have seen the potential for me to do certain things that I would never have spotted. They’ve said to me: “You’d be really good at that.” Had they not said that, and had I not listened, I’d never have tried those things. Going along with their suggestions has turned out to be an incredibly powerful way of moving into new areas.

I’m currently Vice President of the ICE and next year is their 200^{th} anniversary, so one thing I’ve been trying to do is to make sure that we take this opportunity to sort out some of the issues about the image and attractiveness of the industry, as well as taking time to celebrate the fantastic civil engineers that are already in the industry. I feel that the time is right to start looking outwards and sharing a much stronger message about how we shape the world.

https://twitter.com/wsp_pbworld

https://www.facebook.com/WSP.Global

The post New opportunities that add up for women in engineering – Rachel Skinner, Executive Director & Head of Development at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post Proving them wrong: “Girls don’t do maths. They don’t pass.” Oh yes they do – Cheryl Praeger, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Australia (UWA) appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…I was only the second woman in Australia to be appointed Professor of Mathematics. My kids were still very young and I was 35. It was the most amazing thing to happen in my career…”

I always liked maths at school but I had no idea that anyone could be a mathematician – I thought they were all dead! I just wanted to study as much maths as I could, having no idea whether it would lead to a job or not. I thought: “When I run out of opportunities I’ll do something else.”

I managed to get my honours degree and then my doctorate, and then a post-doctoral fellowship, and then eventually I got a temporary lectureship, followed by a tenured lectureship. I was appointed a full professor, succeeding Professor Larry Blakers at the University of Western Australis (UWA) about ten years after finishing my doctorate. I’ve had a really happy time being able to do mathematics.

My dad didn’t understand that it would be really important for me to finish school, and he wanted me to study typing and shorthand, so I said: “Well that’s OK as long as I can study chemistry as well,” but of course I couldn’t do both because the subjects were on different tracks. Mum talked with Dad for 18 months to persuade him that I should be allowed to study science and maths, so that afterwards, if I left school after Year Ten, I could perhaps catch up with my shorthand and typing at a business college, if that was what I wanted to do.

So, then I was able to study science and maths up to the end of junior high school, and by that stage I really liked it and got good marks, so I was allowed to continue and finish high school, which was great. I had two younger brothers and they were going to get preference. My mum and dad said: “If you get a scholarship you can go to university, but we can’t afford to pay for you to go because we have to keep the money for the boys.”

When I was trying to find out about what I could do with maths I saw a careers adviser at a government bureau, and he told me: “Girls don’t do maths. They don’t pass.” I was talking to the adviser there and he showed me an engineering course, and I thought: “That’s nice, but there’s no maths after second year, so that’s still not good enough.” I just got really angry and I wanted to do maths even more, so Mum came to the rescue again. She spoke with friends and found out there was a place I could go at the university to talk about courses.

I eventually ended up finding out the right information. There was a special advanced stream in maths called ‘Honours’ that I could do from the first year. Then my physics teacher at school said: “Why don’t you do honours physics as well?” So I ended up doing ‘Honours’ level in maths and physics and it wasn’t until the end of second year that I had to make a choice. So, I got good advice … eventually!

There were ten women in the ‘Honours’ maths class at the beginning of my first year – out of 80 students in total. After three months, there was an exam, and from second term on there were just four girls left in a reduced class of 33. In the second year, I became the only girl in my maths class because my female friends decided they didn’t want to do the higher-level Honours maths stream – they wanted to go back to the ordinary level maths class. I was the only girl left in the Honours maths class of 20.

I got married during my post-doctoral research fellowship at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia. My husband, John Henstridge, was doing a Ph.D. in statistics at ANU and we both got temporary maths jobs at UWA for two years. The jobs were extended. Mine was made permanent, and then John got a permanent job in the Agriculture Faculty at UWA, so we stayed.

We had two kids and when the younger one was seven or eight months old there was an advertisement for a professor level post in “any area of pure or applied mathematics” at UWA. I was at lecturer level and this job as professor was about three levels above. However, the professor of statistics suggested I should apply. After a while I decided I would, and after waiting another ten months for an interview I was appointed. So, I made this great big jump over three levels. It turned out there had been 85 applications. I was stunned.

I was only the second woman in Australia to be appointed Professor of Mathematics. My kids were still very young and I was 35. It was the most amazing thing to happen in my career.

My role is a mixture of all kinds of things. There’s some teaching in lectures for undergraduates, and there’s postgraduate supervision for students who are trying to get their doctorates by working on their own research projects.

Today I’ve just come from two hours talking with two research visitors from Iran – we were trying to solve a problem, and for me, that is what maths is all about – solving interesting problems.

Maths is also a lot about persistence. So, for example, the Ph.D. student I was supervising this morning was very persistent, but it seemed to me that she wasn’t going to solve a very hard part of the problem, it was just too difficult. I felt my role was to re-scope the whole project and say: “I think we should be looking more broadly. Why don’t you consider some of these research questions?”

The supervisor role is to have a big picture and to suggest new directions for the research, which will shed more light than doing calculations which are too hard and don’t work out. The students can get very depressed. They think that they have to solve the problem, whereas maybe that particular bit of the problem is not solvable just yet. It’s about framing the problems in the right way.

I also have a lot of service activity. I’m the Foreign Secretary of the Australian Academy of Science so there are many emails back and forth during the day about decisions to be made about things such as policy statements.

I look back at the advent of digital computation, which has completely revolutionised what you can do, and what society wants. When I was growing up the only options to work with a maths degree were an academic teaching and research job, or otherwise teaching in a school.

We knew also that some mathematicians became actuaries who advised insurance companies and superannuation companies, and I had been told by that government vocational guidance officer that the Australian State of Queensland only needed one actuary, and already had one. At that time, we really didn’t need very many actuaries because there wasn’t such a great amount of information that could be analysed. However, with cheap and powerful digital computation, and the easy availability of huge quantities of data, maths is needed everywhere (and in particular we need lots more actuaries).

Maths is behind all the algorithms that make the computers work. It’s what makes your mobile phone work, so we need better mathematicians in every area – to work with engineers, to work in IT (Information Technology). (One of my sons works with the algorithms behind mobile phones.) There’s huge growth developing the so-called “Internet of things” whereby you can monitor appliances, you can turn things off and on, so you can control your every-day life through the Internet.

Mathematicians are also needed in banking and finance. They’re needed in health to help with bioinformatics and to help analyse clinical trials. There’s so many more avenues where we need mathematicians skilled up and working alongside scientists, engineers, economists and others.

There’s so many possibilities for jobs. I have one student who should be writing up his Ph.D. but yesterday he started a three-month internship to see whether he’d like working in a particular company. I said: “** Please **write up your thesis or you’ll regret it if you don’t.” It just needs to get done! There’s such a demand for well-trained people, especially in STEM areas.

We need more female role models so students can see there’s a possibility for them to work in maths. There’s still quite a low number of women working in academia. This means it’s important for these women to have networks and connect so they’re able to talk about common issues that arise. Networking is important, and role models – all the things which are important also in every other minority area.

There are “women in mathematics” groups in most countries now, but in Australia it’s only been formalised for about five years, although we’d meet up at every conference for about the previous 15 years before that to get together and talk about things over lunch. European Women in Mathematics run their own conferences and I’ve been to two of them. I’d never even thought of going to a women’s only conference with only women speakers, but they were wonderful. It was a very different environment, a different feel.

Each lecturer was asked to spend a few minutes talking about how she came to be where she was in her career. We heard from amazing women, telling amazing stories, which made us feel connected with the speaker before she even started to talk about the maths. I think other general maths conferences could learn from that.

About two thirds of the universities in Australia have signed up for the SAGE Pilot project (Science in Australia Gender Equity). It’s in its first year so we can’t yet judge the outcomes but the SAGE programme has support from the universities and the research funding agencies. The NHMRC (the National Health and Medical Research Council) insisted that universities accepting grants should have policies and practices that are equitable for all staff, and this has to be a good thing.

When I was on secondment in London a couple of years ago, I met up with the equality and diversity people from the Royal Society. They were involved in introducing the Athena SWAN programme in the UK (along with the Equality Challenge Unit). They told me how the programme had started in the UK, and how other equity initiatives within the Royal Society had flowed from this. The Australian Academy of Science was already working on a pilot for the SAGE programme, and the Academy ended up working towards adopting the Athena SWAN model. Subsequently SAGE received Australian Government funding for a full-scale trial of Athena SWAN.

There was a real push to do something significant for women in science at the Australian Academy of Science because in 2013, out of the 20 new scientists elected as fellows, none were women. This came at a time when the Academy had its first elected female president. Everyone felt terrible! The Australian Academy of Science re-thought many of its policies and procedures as a result, and SAGE is one of the wonderful initiatives that is affecting the whole country.

Australia is the first country in the Southern Hemisphere where the Athena SWAN programme has been exported. The Australian SAGE coordinators have subsequently organised a special bilateral workshop in India, funded by the Australian Government, to discuss the Athena SWAN model. This involved a lot of female academics in India and it’s possible that some form of the Athena SWAN initiative may be trialled there.

I was in Tokyo two weeks ago, talking about women in STEM in Australia, so I mentioned this process. There were people from Japan, China, South Korea and many other countries who were all interested. Maybe it doesn’t exactly suit their culture but I hope that some aspects of SAGE could help them because they were all worried about the status of women in their countries.

For example, it seems that there may be particular problems for women feeling able to come back to work after having babies, because of difficulty in finding suitable child care places. There are several impediments for women in those countries who want to work. I hope that modifying the Athena SWAN / SAGE model might make an enormous difference to many women. It also creates more flexibility for working fathers too.

There are so many different areas of maths that people can go into, following their interests. There’s a great need for them. Studying maths doesn’t necessarily put you on an academic track. It gives you the skills and capacity to move into industry or other sectors, and you can get a much better job if you have graduate expertise.

My research group goes on a three-day research retreat every year somewhere off campus. This year we went to a beautiful place in the middle of a national park about an hour’s drive from Perth. We all propose problems we’d like to work on together, and we have a “problem describing” session just before the retreat. Participants choose the problems they find most interesting to them.

As a result of the retreat, we’re working on new problems with new people – our postgrad students, our researchers, and our many visitors. We spend several days together at the retreat working on these problems, and we keep working on the most fruitful of them afterwards. It’s fascinating and it’s fun.

There’s a great amount of teamwork that’s part of maths. It’s something you think of in science but you don’t seem to associate with maths. It almost seems like an isolated subject. Certainly, some people do it that way, as they feel that their deepest work is done when they are undisturbed and they have long periods of time when they can think. We all understand the need for ‘thinking time’ but there’s also much more team work in maths these days than there was when I was new in my career.

We love collaboration. Some would say that’s more usual in women than men: that women like collaboration, they like teamwork, they like working together and seeing where a problem is going. They take turns leading the direction of the work.

There are some problems here. These days there are roughly half and half, men and women, in maths at undergraduate level, and then fewer women at postgrad level because maths graduates have gone in different directions. However, there’s a particular issue for young mathematicians who aim for a career in academia.

It’s important to get international experience and to get a good place to do post-doctoral research, but that’s exactly the stage of life where women may be forming a serious relationship and having children, so there are many additional problems that may make it more difficult for them. In England, there are re-entry fellowships that make it possible to have a link with a university, even if the fellow doesn’t actually have a job there. This helps to tide women over for short periods in their careers.

After a few years in my research group one of my postdocs had six to nine months in Cambridge (UK) looking for her next role, so one of the maths societies gave her a special fellowship, where a small amount of money was given to a university, and she was given a formal connection with that university along with some travel money to get to important conferences. This made all the difference and she’s just secured herself a Marie Curie Fellowship for four years, so the small investment from that society has really paid off.

The best advice I received in my career, although it didn’t come at the start, was to suggest that I might think of applying for a professorship, as I mentioned earlier. I’d got to the stage where I was thinking: “That is the level I want to reach,” but I hadn’t even thought that I would get there in the next ten years. Then a colleague I greatly respected said: “I think you ought to consider putting in an application for that position.” That was very powerful advice for me.

I’d been doing a lot of research with this colleague. He was in a different area from mine and we were collaborating across the disciplines. He was the one who suggested I should imagine myself in this much more senior role and apply for the position.

It took me about three months to decide that I would put in an application because a professor’s job seemed so far beyond me. I was just about to be promoted to senior lecturer, and as it turned out, I was senior lecturer for ten months until I was interviewed for, and the offered, the job of professor. So, I jumped over the associate professor level. Having a suggestion that I might take this opportunity changed everything. Women often don’t consider themselves for certain desirable roles without a suggestion from a trusted colleague or mentor.

I have formally retired this year (in the sense of no longer getting paid!). My colleagues at the university are organising a mini-symposium where some of my former students and colleagues will give lectures. That will be a lovely day. I’m having a lecture theatre named after me too, which is a great honour. I’m very excited about it!

One of my close research colleagues from Imperial College London will arrive next week, and we hope to make a lot of progress on a huge research programme we’re working on jointly. I’m very much looking forward to that – I like being busy!

http://www.web.uwa.edu.au/people/cheryl.praeger

The post Proving them wrong: “Girls don’t do maths. They don’t pass.” Oh yes they do – Cheryl Praeger, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Australia (UWA) appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post Helping girls beat the less than one in a million odds of becoming a female maths professor – Sarah Hart, Professor of Mathematics at Birkbeck, University of London appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…The idea that you can, just with logical argument, show that something is true – always, anywhere, in any language and for all time – is incredibly powerful and beguiling…”

Since I was a young child, I have always loved patterns and puzzles. My favourite toy as a toddler was a set of painted wooden tiles which I would spend ages making into different symmetrical patterns.

I loved the fact that numbers went on for ever, and was delighted with discoveries like the fact that you can use one piece of knowledge to derive infinitely many others (for example if you know 5 times 6 is 30, then somehow encapsulated in that are the facts that 5 times 60 is 300, and 5 times 600 is 3000 – I mention this one because I have a vivid memory of announcing it as a great discovery to my amused mother when I was five).

To me, mathematics is all about patterns and symmetry: finding them and understanding what’s behind them. As I got older I learnt about mathematical proof, and that made me love mathematics even more. The idea that you can, just with logical argument, show that something is true – always, anywhere, in any language and for all time – is incredibly powerful and beguiling.

After school, a natural next step was to study mathematics at university. Somehow I never left! I did a Masters and then a Ph.D., specialising in an area of mathematics known as group theory, which is the mathematical tool for analysing symmetry. I got my Ph.D. in 2000, aged 25; I had a couple of research grants and a temporary lecturing post before landing a permanent lectureship at Birkbeck in 2004.

I’m very lucky in that I really enjoy teaching and communicating about mathematics, as well as doing research, so being an academic is my ideal job! I was gradually promoted to senior lecturer, then reader, and finally professor in 2013, and my two children were born in 2007 and 2010. It’s been a busy time! I became Head of Department in September 2016 so I am quite new to the role.

My current role involves several different aspects including research, management and teaching. Each day is different and usually involves juggling all three of these.

As Head of Department I am responsible as well for making sure the department runs smoothly, and for spearheading new initiatives, such as developing new programmes, ensuring the continuing high quality of our existing programmes, supporting colleagues in their work (for example making sure workloads are shared equally), and a million other little things that crop up in the course of the day – you wouldn’t believe the number of forms that need the signature of the Head of Department!

I’m pretty good at admin but my true passions are teaching and research. In research, I have my own projects where, sometimes by myself but mostly with collaborators and research students, we are trying to investigate new ideas and hopefully prove some good theorems. I am also head of the Mathematics Research Group in the department, so I am mentoring colleagues in their research too.

I’m regularly asked to give talks at conferences or at other universities about my work. I strongly believe in the importance of outreach and public engagement, so I get involved in things like workshops with local schools, public lectures aimed at non-mathematicians, and events for women in mathematics. My role also involves teaching, so I prepare and deliver lecture courses, at the moment at Masters level, in specialist mathematics topics.

It’s a Government priority to get more girls studying Mathematics at A-Level. At the moment, around 40% of the students who take A-level maths are girls, so there is an imbalance here, and the worrying thing is that this proportion has been static for the last ten years.

It’s hard to know exactly why there is such a disparity but my feeling is that a big part of it is the societal belief that girls aren’t as good at boys at maths, even though this is not borne out in exam results. Girls perceive themselves not to be as good and are likely to drop maths after GCSE unless it is obviously one of their strongest subjects.

High-achieving girls tend to be more likely to get 9 or 10 A or A* grades at GCSE (we have probably all observed the “be perfect” societal ideals for girls that cause that). This means they have more choice at A-level and seem to be less likely to opt for maths in those scenarios. I certainly remember my confidence being knocked on a couple of occasions where if teachers and family hadn’t reassured me, I might have been put off maths.

My school entered some of us for a national maths competition. I made it to the second round, but then crashed out with something like 2 points out of 45. I can’t solve Rubiks cubes either (although I did once learn from a book how to do it, but that’s cheating)! And yet it turns out I do have the tenacity and intuition necessary to be a good mathematician.

There’s also the question of what advice girls are given if they do excel. I remember my own school days when if a girl was good at science and maths she would be automatically steered towards medicine by the school and the family, which is great for medicine but not so great for maths. I think to deal with this we must actively tell girls that are doing well that they should consider taking maths further.

One could also point out that it’s been shown that A-level maths is the single best predictor of high lifetime earnings! I also feel that the presence of women role models is very important – not the impossible unattainable ideal kind, but just normal women getting on with the normal job of being a mathematician.

I believe we all have a responsibility to do what we increase the numbers of women in mathematics. It’s tempting to think that things will be OK if we just wait – after all, 100 years ago there were no female maths professors at all. It’s true that things are changing, but the World Economic Forum recently calculated that gender parity will not be achieved until 2186, and I’m certainly not prepared to wait that long!

So, in March 2017 I’m involved with organising two one-day events aimed at encouraging girls and young women to consider pursuing a career in mathematics. Day 1 is the * Winton Women Trailblazers in Mathematics* conference. It is for girls in years 11-13 at school, where they can meet women working in mathematics and statistics and get an idea of what it’s like to take the subjects further. The second day, which is also supported by the London Mathematical Society, is a

With 40% of the maths A-level students being female, things don’t sound too bad. But at every step along the way in academia, this proportion decreases, so at degree level about 30-35% of students are female, but then only 20-25% of junior lecturers are women. By the time we get to professors, it’s less than 10%.

When I became a professor in 2013 I looked up the data and there were 50 female professors of mathematics in the UK. So, a person picked at random from the UK population has less than a 1 in a million chance of being a female maths professor!

Of course, pure chance is not the only thing at work here. My career path has been down to a lot more than innate talent. Firstly, I had good role models, at school and university. Yes, people told me boys were better than girls at maths, but that was counteracted by positive support from others.

I am very lucky that my husband is extremely supportive of me, and he’s never expected me to do all the housework or childcare. We share those roles and he does his bit. My college, Birkbeck, is really generous with maternity leave so I was able to take plenty of time off with both my girls, and to work quite flexibly on my return. All these things are really important.

As far as personal qualities go, obviously, I do have some mathematical ability but more important than that I think is that I’m really stubborn(!) and I keep persisting at problems until I crack them. That kind of obstinacy is what’s needed to keep applying for jobs, keep submitting research applications and research papers, even when (as in the case of research grants) at least ten applications are received for every grant available.

In mathematics, and probably in academic mathematics particularly, it’s really important to have a growth mindset. The perception of mathematicians may be that we are all super-geniuses who have flashes of inspiration that lead us to make great discoveries. But actually, the reality is that (apart from a few exceptional people) most researchers, including the very good ones, have to spend months or years working on a problem before they make a breakthrough.

You have to try lots of different approaches, form and then reject hypotheses, make conjectures that turn out to be false, before at long last you hit on a way to prove your theorem. Then you write it up, refine your arguments so that they are as elegant as possible, and submit the beautifully crafted result to an academic journal.

The short, neat, proofs that students and others see are the outcome of a great deal of fine tuning, and 90% of what we do has to be discarded in the process. If we only judged ourselves by looking at the outcomes of others, we would all just give up! The way to be a good mathematician is to be a good learner of mathematics. It’s not where you are, it’s where you are going that matters.

There is still gender stereotyping in maths and related careers. I was amused when my daughter, then aged five, asked me if it’s possible for men to be mathematicians. I was the only mathematician she knew. In the general population, of course this is often reversed, the well-known ‘science’ people being Einstein, Newton etc. If you ask someone to draw a picture of a maths professor, you’ll probably get an old white man with a long white beard.

I think the way to address this is to try and make sure the portrayals of these jobs involve diverse people – women, men, BAME professors, and so on. We don’t have to force it down people’s throats (I was once introduced at a talk as * “this is Sarah Hart, she’s a woman, a mother, and a professor, ALL before the age of 40,”* which was a bit excruciating!) but just try and show people that yes, there are women in these roles.

It’s a time of rapid change for us and for all academic institutions. The ramifications of Brexit as well as Government policy such as removal of financial support for students with disabilities, and the introduction of the “Teaching Excellence Framework”, which ties certain metrics to the fees universities need to charge students, means a state of flux for all of us.

In our department, we are currently working on ways to support our students better, to provide more options about ways to study, whether that’s online distance learning programmes for students who can’t any longer obtain visas to come here and study in person, or increasing the range of subjects we teach in the evenings for London-based students who want or need to combine work with study.

On the research side, I have quite a few irons in the fire, with interesting projects ongoing with colleagues in the department (including my three Ph.D. students) as well as elsewhere in the UK. I get invited to give public lectures on a fairly regular basis – I’m quite excited about one in June I’m giving for Gresham College in London on the friendship and exchange of letters between the mathematician Donald Coxeter and the artist M.C. Escher, which influenced both their work in really interesting ways.

With my leadership of the department, my own research, teaching and public engagement activities, and on the home front two daughters in primary school, it is a busy, action-packed but very exciting time!

http://www.bbk.ac.uk/ems/faculty/hart

https://twitter.com/prof_sarah_hart

https://twitter.com/BirkbeckBEI

The post Helping girls beat the less than one in a million odds of becoming a female maths professor – Sarah Hart, Professor of Mathematics at Birkbeck, University of London appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post Why humility and curiosity are just as important as intelligence when it comes to success in maths – Ph.D. student, Charles Gray appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…I feel it’s my duty to share how surprisingly fun mathematics is…”

Choosing music was an act of self-healing. I missed most of high school due to homelessness. I always felt drawn to mathematics, but I couldn’t see what I could do with it. Music was a balm for my soul, after a traumatic adolescence. I started with a jazz certificate of performance, and then undertook a Bachelor of Music majoring in musicology (the theory of music), as well as an arts degree in film theory. It felt natural to write a thesis in film music.

Through my music studies, I was introduced to the contributions of composers such as J.S. Bach to how we write melody, and in particular melody against melody (counterpoint). The axioms of this theory fascinated me.

When you analyse melodies, especially iconic melodies like ** Over the Rainbow**, you find they still follow the paradigms established in the 17th century. Rules like if you leap, you must step in the opposite direction. There are a lot of numbers, too. You may have a melodic second or fourth, but not a harmonic second or fourth in species counterpoint.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any jobs in seventeenth century counterpoint. So, I taught piano and worked as a piano player for hire for almost twenty years. I did try to find other work, but found that my degrees were not valued. I also wanted to do something that was more like the theory I’d been attracted to. So, for the last seven years I supported myself with music, whilst studying mathematics.

It is in mathematics that I’ve found a world akin to that of music theory, but so much analytically richer than I had ever hoped. I undertook a bridging course for people who missed high school, went straight into an undergraduate degree in mathematics, honours in abstract algebra, and now a Ph.D. in theoretical meta-analysis.

A typical day for me is a bit hectic. I’m an early bird. Since I’ve been working and studying for so many years, the only time I could study was in the morning. I get up at 5am so that I get to my office by 7.30am. I usually plan my day, and take a moment to reflect on my research before my day gets filled with student consultations, meetings, and all the bustle of a busy department.

For my research, it’s really very split between theory and computation. So, some mornings I spend time at the whiteboard cursing equations I haven’t quite got my head around. I’m always learning new theory, and even though its challenging, it’s always fun.

The other side of statistical research is programming. I write simulations and test algorithms. A skill I like to develop on the side is data visualisation and management, which I find surprisingly soothing after all that tricky maths.

I teach a lot, as well, lecturing in mathematics and statistical modelling. So, there are lectures to write, tutorials to put together and so forth. Students pop in randomly all the time, too. I’m also involved in a lot of societies. I’m very active with the Statistical Society of Australia, organising speakers and conferences. My afternoons are usually dominated with these non-research commitments.

Hahaha, this reminds me of how I have sometimes felt like I wish I could lend my ears to someone so that they could hear music the way they hear music. Now I feel it’s my duty to share how surprisingly fun mathematics is.

My fourth-year thesis was in abstract algebra. Most of my work in this revolved around these beautiful mathematical structures like this. So, I spent a lot of time drawing pictures. There were more numbers in my page numbers than there were in the thesis, and there were absolutely no boring calculations.

Pure mathematics is all about elegant logical arguments, as well as looking for challenges that infinity or zero or nothing (the null set) might introduce. It was everything I loved about music theory and then some.

Now that I’m in statistics, I’m blown away by the breadth of applications. One of my heroes, Professor Kerrie Mengersen, uses statistics in conservation efforts to protect cheetahs, orangutans, and jaguars. I’ve been lucky enough to work on two different research projects that use statistics in cancer research. There are many ways statistics is being used in this field. My research focus is now in meta-analysis, another field that is heavily used in clinical trials, climate science, and policy.

At first people scoffed at me. People seemed to feel compelled to tell me it was a silly decision to make, and that I’d made my bed in my twenties, as it were, so I now I had to run with the career I’d already begun. People do not commonly associate music with high analytical intelligence, so I came up against a lot of scepticism.

As I progressed in my studies that scepticism began to fall away. It is very, very strange to suddenly (in my mid-thirties) be perceived as intelligent. I find people treat me the mathematics lecturer very differently than the me the pianist.

The hardest part of the transition was supporting myself. I worked through the degree, sometimes up to four jobs. I got up between 4 and 5am each day to study and only took one or two days off a month. The hours were brutal. But it wasn’t really that the hours were hard, but the loneliness of going through something like that alone I found most difficult. There were times when it felt as if no one understood how tired I was, and what a barrier that was to clear mathematical thinking.

I genuinely believe in advocacy for women in mathematics. I’m a student affiliate with Women in STEMM Australia, treasurer of Supporting Women in Science, and on the organising committee of R-Ladies Melbourne (for ladies who code in the programming language R). I believe we’re under-represented in STEMM fields, and I could reel off all sorts of statistics or go on about how many times I’ve been the only woman in the room in a seminar or so forth.

But that wouldn’t be admitting the primary reason I seek these groups out, and it’s entirely selfish. I was starved for the company of women, as well as needing to surround myself with role models I can relate to.

I like women, I like spending time with women. Men are great, too, and talking shop with everyone is great, but I don’t have to put in a special effort to find men in my field to talk maths with. Since I became involved in these groups I’ve felt far more connected with women at all levels of my discipline, and am less lonely for it.

Terrific to see PhD students @cantabile & Amanda Woon connecting with our wonderful @WomenSciAUST Ambassador @lkw_sci #IWD2017 #womeninSTEMM pic.twitter.com/XN7klz4d4x

— Dr Marguerite Galea (@MVEG001) 8 March 2017

CHOOSEMATHS is a multi-pronged initiative of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, whose primary purpose is to encourage young people to study mathematics, particularly women. The motivation for this is that majority of the jobs of tomorrow will require mathematics, but students are not choosing to study mathematics. There’s outreach professional development with teachers, scholarships, and more. We’re currently travelling the country speaking to high school students as part of the careers awareness campaign.

The problems of today and tomorrow cannot be solved without mathematics and statistics. From climate change, to rising inequality, to cancer, to the housing bubbles occurring all over the world, none of these problems will be solved without the use of mathematics. This is the message I’m sharing with students this week; that they can use mathematics to save the world.

Ah, now that is a fantastic question. If there is one thing I’ve truly learnt from my academic career in mathematics is that the idea that you’re either “good at” maths or not is entirely false. Mathematics is not an innate skill, it is learnt.

If I had to choose skills to succeed in mathematics I would choose first humility, second curiosity, and intelligence only comes in third place. Humility, so that you are not too afraid to ask why, curiosity so that you feel compelled to ask why, and intelligence (to a lesser extent than most think) to understand why.

I’ve seen a lot of people smarter than I am drop away from mathematics because they believed they were good at it, so that when it got hard they found it crushing. Of course, it’s hard at times, but it’s also so fun. The harder it is, the bigger the sense of achievement when you get somewhere with it.

I’ve got a series of conferences that will serve as deadlines by which I need to finish research papers over the next couple of years. I’m co-writing a subject for our new Masters course in data science as well. Broadly speaking, I want to transition into being a careful and competent statistician who can solve problems in a broad array of fields.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/charles-gray-48b93724/

Johann Sebastian Bach image credit: Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The post Why humility and curiosity are just as important as intelligence when it comes to success in maths – Ph.D. student, Charles Gray appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post Researching the fascinating link between mathematics and the origin of life on Earth – Associate Professor Rowena Ball of the Australian National University in Canberra appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…I chose science and maths because the scientific and mathematical way of describing the world made beautiful sense to me…”

My career in science and maths has not followed the linear path of school to university and then first job to promotion, etc.

As a child, I was mercilessly bullied at school and home for being good at schoolwork and at maths in particular. I come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background, and unfortunately there was little understanding of the benefits of education.

I responded by developing a very ‘in-your-face’, ‘up-yours’ attitude, so that I did even better at school! (And eventually the bullies dropped off.)

However, I was not able to access university education until the age of 29, when I was bringing up my three children as a widow and working as a gardener to support the family. I was determined to educate my kids, and decided I would begin by educating myself, to set them a good example.

So, I studied at night and on weekends by distance education for seven years to get a B.Sc. I chose science and maths because the scientific and mathematical way of describing the world made beautiful sense to me.

When I graduated with first class honours I was also awarded the University Medal. I was offered a Ph.D. scholarship, which I accepted because it paid more than what I was earning as a gardener! I took to research really well, and I have held research-only positions ever since. I accepted a postdoc position at the University of Leeds in the UK, taking the kids with me, but then I had to return to Australia to care for my elderly parents.

In 1999 I accepted a position at ANU (the Australian National University), where I have remained since. I still work with collaborators at the University of Leeds though, and most years I go back there for a few weeks. From 2010 to 2016 I held a prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship.

I consider myself extremely fortunate, in that, firstly, I was able to access a high-quality undergraduate distance education programme; secondly, being an applied mathematician has enabled me to meet and work with wonderful people from different disciplines; and thirdly, I have the privilege of working in the research-intensive culture and environment of ANU. (And in case you are wondering – yes, I have attended the university graduations of all three of my children!)

My role at ANU as a research academic involves preparing grant applications, initiating research problems, developing them conceptually and methodologically, writing and running computational codes, interactions with research students and collaborators, collecting and processing results, drafting and revising articles for peer reviewed publication.

There is associated professional activity, such as committee service, serving on the organising committee for conferences, and refereeing papers for journals.

I also have a passionate interest in Indigenous scientific and engineering heritage, and writing about this has led me to doing science enrichment activities with Aboriginal school children at special STEM camps, and at two remote Indigenous schools in North West Queensland, under the CSIRO [Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation] Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools programme.

I run a science Facebook page for these kids. These activities continue to be an absolute joy!

I mentioned above that one of my recent projects concerns the origin of life on Earth, and you might wonder what maths has to do with that. The answer is that we can model the complex steps of chemical evolution, which led to biological evolution in the primordial soup more than 3.8 billion years ago, by writing down equations that describe changes in all the interacting chemical species and the temperature.

We solve these equations in the computer, and the resulting data tell what conditions must have been present for life to emerge, and what effects different variables, such as natural fluctuations, may have had. These are ‘computational experiments’, which can then guide and inform real experiments by other scientists in laboratories, and inform the search for extra-terrestrial life.

I’m afraid that in most STEM areas, gender inequity, stereotyping and discrimination are deeply woven through the fabric of the disciplines and institutions. Some women in these areas fight bravely against it, some women choose not to see it, and most of us just get on with doing the best science and maths we can, as best we can.

The challenges I have faced (but not necessarily overcome!) are too numerous – and some too heinous – to list here, and they become more formidable as one’s career progresses. But these days I call it out when I see it. Only this week I wrote to the organising committee of a conference to which I was invited, to ask (pointedly but politely) why they had only one invited female keynote speaker to 12 invited male keynote speakers on the programme.

On a positive note, I believe it is becoming more widely accepted that ensuring gender balance and diversity in all activities of a discipline enriches the discipline significantly.

I have high expectations of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative, especially if it moves beyond the pilot stage to the point where research funding to an institution is made contingent on demonstrating real, lasting and greatly improved retention and promotion of women.

We have evidence now that gender stereotyping in maths and science manifests very early, in children as young as five or six years old, so we need to resource schools and teachers in encouraging and empowering girls in maths and science.

I have great faith, too, in our wonderful, strong, young women Ph.D. students and graduates. They are a precious asset! They are the role models for girls in schools, and I’m pleased to see that Double Helix, the CSIRO’s science magazine for schoolkids, features them and their work often and prominently.

My team and I are continuing our origin of life research, as it is a fascinating puzzle and a ‘wicked’ problem (we know more about the origin of the universe than the origin of life!), and potentially has useful biotech applications.

I plan to spend more time researching Indigenous science and engineering heritage. My new pilot research project involves adapting the methods of molecular phylogenetics to elucidate the evolution of pre-colonial Indigenous history. Instead of molecular genes, cultural traits – such as languages, stories, and kinship structures – are interrogated to determine their history.

https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/ball-rv

https://twitter.com/rowenaball

DNA image credit: By Nogas1974 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The post Researching the fascinating link between mathematics and the origin of life on Earth – Associate Professor Rowena Ball of the Australian National University in Canberra appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post There are infinite possibilities for women in maths and your capacity is much, much greater than you believe – Professor June Barrow-Green, Maths Historian at the Open University appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…People are so surprised when they meet me as a maths historian, as for them maths was a subject with all the people taken out…”

I’ve had a slightly strange career trajectory because my parents were rather Victorian in their attitude to education for girls. I didn’t actually go to university until I was 30 because their financial situation was such that they would have had to pay for all my living expenses and they thought it would be a waste of money! I also went to a secondary school (a boarding school) that wasn’t particularly academic, although I always enjoyed academic work because I went to a good primary school and that set me up well for secondary school.

After I left school I went to work in an art gallery on Bond Street in London, for about eight years. Whilst I was there Open University was becoming really quite visible. I thought I was too old to go to a conventional university but I was in a better position to fund my own studies by this point, so I decided to study with the Open University. I began with arts courses because I was working at the gallery, but I also thought it would be fun to do some maths courses because I always liked it at school.

So, I was enjoying studying maths, and I decided I wanted to do more of it, so, almost on a whim, I asked my OU tutor whether it would be possible to do it full time. I was in the fortunate position that I did have A-levels (although my grades weren’t great) which meant I satisfied university admissions requirements, so my Open University tutor recommended that I apply to Kings College London.

I was incredibly fortunate that I had this mad idea at just the right time of year (in October / November) before Kings had started accepting people for their next intake. When I visited the admissions tutor at Kings I thought he was going to tell me it was a nice idea but to go back to the Open University, but he was really welcoming and thought it would be a great idea and because I’d got the A-levels he said I could join the following October.

I did a full-time maths degree and loved it, and while I was doing it we had to write a couple of essays – one in the first year and one in the second year – so I thought I’d like to write about the history of maths. I was curious about where and when mathematics started, where it was going, and also, why it developed in the way that it had, and why some of it seemed rather hard.

When I was an undergraduate we had calculus tutorials and at the start of the very first one the lecturer looked at us and said: “Isaac Newton, Isaac Newton – the second nastiest person to come out of Grantham.” (This was in the Maggie Thatcher era!) I’d never thought before about mathematicians being nice or nasty. But of course, it makes a difference, as it does in any sphere – whether people are nice or nasty, whether they’re manipulative or not. That’s just life.

This lit a spark for me of wanting to understand how mathematicians really operate, what they were like as human beings, and what other things played into the development of their mathematics. These were such things as philosophical questions, or social questions, or to what extent it involved things like war and politics. I realised that all kinds of things lead into the development of mathematics, but you’re just not aware of that when you’re studying it, especially at school.

So, when I finished my degree I decided I’d like to do a Ph.D. in 19^{th} century maths because that is what makes up a large part of what you study in maths at university. But I wasn’t completely sure whether I wanted to do a PhD because I liked being a student so much. I also needed to shore up my finances, so I got a job in the City for a couple of years, which completely convinced me that I did not want a career in the City!

**A return to the Open University**

I realised that I needed to do a bit more maths in order to understand the history of 19^{th} century maths, so I did an M.Sc, in Mathematical Physics at Kings. You had to choose five courses from the core, but the other three courses were free choice, so I chose the history of maths course, which was offered at Imperial.

Studying that course completely convinced me that history of mathematics was what I wanted to do for my Ph.D., so then I looked around to see where I could do it, and the obvious place, funnily enough, was the Open University because there History of Mathematics sat in the maths department.

I knew I needed to be with mathematicians. I knew if I was in a humanities department I would never be able to find the right mathematician to help me with the maths. I knew I’d need help and advice. I identified the person at the Open University who I thought would be the ideal Ph.D. supervisor.

He responded and said he’d be happy to meet me in London, and it transpired that he lived about half a mile away from me in Islington, and he didn’t much like traveling to the Open University in Milton Keynes, so the prospect of having a Ph.D. student he could supervise close to home was quite appealing!

Serendipity definitely plays a part in life. It worked out brilliantly. It was a fantastic stroke of luck because I got wonderful supervision. (We’re incredibly good friends and he’s only just retired.) After the Ph.D. he managed to get me a postdoc Leverhulme Fellowship at the Open University, and then I secured a few short-term contracts before the Open University finally gave in and gave me a permanent job. They finally gave in completely and made me a professor a couple of years ago!

I’ve got incredibly good colleagues both at the OU and elsewhere, and the job has taken me all over the world, but it wasn’t a career that I planned out. History of maths is quite a niche subject too, so you do get to know most of the people in the community. If you don’t know someone you will know someone else who does. I’ve got friends all over the world now who I’ve met on my academic travels to India, Brazil, America, China, and elsewhere. I’m very fortunate.

Modern technology allows mathematicians to collaborate in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. Now several mathematicians can pile in together to prove a theorem that previously would have taken one mathematician a lifetime to prove. Technology also helps us historians of mathematics as we now have access to digitised material which we never even knew existed!

As a mathematician or a historian of mathematics you can go down what turns out to be a wrong alley in the end, but it is going down that alley that helps you understand where the right one is. You don’t always hit the target first off. Sometimes you go down a wrong alley, you end up going in another direction and you solve a different problem.

For children at school going down the wrong alley and making mistakes should be all part of the learning process. There’s a really positive element to it. It shouldn’t be that when you get things wrong that you’re told: “You’re no good at maths.” It’s not about the quantity of maths we do as children, it’s about the quality of the teaching. Children should be taught by people who have a passion and an enthusiasm for maths.

Because the Open University is a distance learning institution we don’t have undergraduates on the premises, so our courses are written, and as far as my teaching at the Open University is concerned, my day to day job is in writing course material and preparing assessment. I do that on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. We have an M.Sc. in Maths and I work on the dissertation course, which is on the History of 19^{th }Century Geometry. I also supervise Ph.D. students.

I also spend time on my research and there is the inevitable administration. I’m on the Athena SWAN Committee. Athena SWAN is a hugely important and really worthwhile initiative for advancing the careers of women in maths and science. In applying for (and achieving) an Athena SWAN bronze award, we have learnt a lot about ourselves at the Open University.

I’m also passionate about books, particularly old books, so I’m on the Library Committee. Mathematicians like using printed books. You rarely use a book in a linear way when you’re doing maths research so a digital edition is usually not appropriate.

I’m also on the London Mathematical Society Council and I’m their librarian, an honorary post which means I oversee their library, which is housed at UCL, and their archives. One of the other jobs of the librarian is overseeing the artwork displayed at De Morgan House.

Because of the Open University’s legacy in television and radio production I’m also quite often asked to be a consultant on television and radio programmes like ** In Our Time** on Radio 4.

Because of the structure of society there were very few women in history who did anything significant in maths, not because there wasn’t the talent there but just because of the way society was structured. Women didn’t have the opportunity to study at university. (For example, it wasn’t until 1947 that the statutes at the University of Cambridge were changed so women could get a degree, so Cambridge didn’t start awarding degrees to women until 1948.)

I’m always cautious about talking about the achievements of women in history of maths because there weren’t that many women who were allowed to do mathematics, but for those who did, almost without exception, they had supportive parents or a supportive family member. (Even at the end of the 19^{th} century there were still people who believed that if women over exerted their brains by doing maths and science then it would affect their ability to bear children..!)

When I was doing my Ph.D., the female mathematician I first encountered, because her name was attached to a theorem, was a Russian woman called Sofia Kovalevskaya. She was remarkable and I quite often talk about her when I go into schools.

She was born in 1850 and she married when she was 18 in what is sometimes described as a ‘fictitious marriage,’ because she wanted to study mathematics and could not do so in Russia, and at the time you couldn’t leave Russia without being with a male escort, be it your father, your brother or your husband. Women couldn’t travel on their own.

At the time, there were men in Russia who were very liberated and were prepared to marry women just so they could escort them out of the country if they wanted to study elsewhere. As a result of her marriage, Sofia was able to study maths in Berlin with Karl Weierstrass, one of the kingpins of mathematical analysis.

For me, why she’s such as good candidate to talk about in schools is because she was not just a mathematician. She wrote plays and novellas, as well as being a campaigner for women’s rights, so she had a combination of lives (including coming to London to visit George Eliot’s salon) and was a really full character. She was also seriously smart mathematically – she won a prestigious prize at the Paris Academy.

People know about Kovalevskaya but there are also unsung women. Many have come to the fore more recently with stories about ‘human computers’, like those in ** Hidden Figures** who are relatively modern, but back in the 18

One particular 18^{th} century women, who was discovered by one of my colleagues, worked for the Nautical Almanac Office doing computations and her name didn’t appear in any of the ledgers until after her husband died because the payments were all made to him. The payments only appeared in the books later because they wanted her to carry on and had to pay her!

There are particular women like that but they are few and far between. There are various instances of other people like Caroline Herschel, who helped her brother, William. Mary Somerville is now better known because she’s made it onto the Scottish ten-pound note. There were so few environments in which these women could thrive so it’s important that we remember and celebrate them.

It’s vital to make teachers aware of the career possibilities in maths. It’s a bit more obvious in some of the sciences, but it’s still a challenge, and it’s a particular problem in maths. There are a number of women who are happy to visit schools to chat about their careers in maths and a database of these would help schools to find role models to talk to their students.

There is a great maths careers website for the Institute of Mathematics and its applications. There’s also something called Plus Magazine. They have various interviews with fascinating people and I heard one of the women who runs it, Marianna Freiberger, doing a brilliant careers talk.

I was on the External Advisory Board for the new maths gallery (the Winton Gallery) at the Science Museum in London. They have now displayed maths thematically, so there are different themes like ‘life and death’, alongside ‘form and beauty’ and ‘trade and travel’, so you can see how maths is involved in all these various aspects of your life. The maths isn’t so much in “in your face” that even parents who’ve had a bad experience with maths can go and think: “If my kids can manage to keep going with maths, all these doors can be open to them.”

The big thing with maths is confidence – to have the confidence to make mistakes and to persevere – and it’s important to see that it’s worth persevering with maths to a decent level.

I haven’t researched this so I don’t have any formal evidence, but my instinctive feeling is that making relationships early between maths and the arts, or maths and anything else has to be a good thing, because one of the things that seems to happen is that maths is seen in isolation, so children don’t see the point of it, and they don’t experience the enjoyment of it.

There are well known strong connections between maths and music, and the first mathematics text books came from artists in the 14^{th} and 15^{th} centuries with perspective. We just need to think of people like Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer, so there’s a really rich history linking maths and the arts.

Anything that stimulates people’s interest in maths and helps them see it as a much broader subject than just a bunch of numbers that they’re struggling with is helpful. A wonderful example of this is the Sublime Symmetry exhibition that was put together by Sarah Hardy to celebrate the work of the ceramicist William De Morgan.

People are so surprised when they meet me as a maths historian, as for them maths was a subject with all the people taken out. You get theorems that are named after people, and I was always curious about them whilst I was studying. There’s one called the Weierstrass theorem and I remember thinking: “That’s a great name!”

At the time, I didn’t realise that Bolzano and Weirstrass were two different people because even when the theorem is taught, people rarely stop to mention something about the people, even as a digression for a couple of minutes. It’s as if they’re just a label and they don’t mean anything. One of our missions in the history of maths is to go back to the original sources to gain a deeper understanding of the mathematics and the way it developed.

In my case, my parents never imagined that I would do anything anyway, and I was discouraged from going to university. My role in life was intended to be sitting around, looking decorative and getting a husband.

When I worked in the art gallery they had some pretty spectacular pieces like Rubens, Turners and Constables – you name it… Sometimes owners of stately homes would need to sell a valuable painting to help make ends meet, and if they sold it to a national institution there was a good tax kick back. When the gallery discovered that I could add up, one of my jobs was to work out these tax calculations.

It was quite funny because people in the gallery thought I was a maths genius because I could do some pretty elementary adding up and percentages! (Percentages seem to be one of those things that often throw people.) When I told them I was studying a university maths course they were amazed as they didn’t think I could possibly need to know any more maths, but they were very supportive when I decided to go to university.

I’d say that if you’ve got a passion for something, then you must go with it, because then you’ll succeed and you’ll get pleasure from it. That’s a key thing for me.

Things are definitely better from the point of view of the Government and society in general, but we wouldn’t need to have this conversation if we were in France. For some reason in this country we’ve developed this divide between the two cultures of science and the arts in society.

If you like maths, then persevere. Find a champion who you can talk to about it. And don’t think that maths is just a young person’s game either. Of course, the evidence is there that much of the really startling work has been done by people who are quite young, but there’s still been a lot of fantastic work done by people who are not so young, and you don’t necessarily want to go into maths as the person who’s going to solve the Riemann Hypothesis. If you’re going to get pleasure from contributing in another way, you’re never too old to do it.

You’re pretty unlikely to win Wimbledon if you first pick up a tennis racket when you’re 30, but you can start playing tennis at 30 and have fantastic fun, and become pretty good, and the fact that you haven’t won Wimbledon is not going to spoil your enjoyment. As well as yourself, you’ve probably given a lot of other people a lot of pleasure, and it’s made you fitter and healthier so don’t be put off studying mathematics if you’re starting later just because you didn’t have a good experience when you were at school.

Everybody’s capacity for maths is much, much greater than they believe. Quite often when you quiz people about maths they say they really quite enjoyed it at 8, 11 or 13, but then they hit a wall and the particular teacher they had at the time wasn’t able to get them over it. So, if they’d had a different teacher who they got on with better, or they hadn’t had measles and missed those three weeks of teaching, things could have been very different.

When children encounter difficulties, all too often they are told that they haven’t got a maths brain and it doesn’t matter. No-one has tried to find out what has been missed and how to get those bricks into the wall so they can carry on building the house.

If you were doing English and someone said they’d missed out all the words beginning with ‘T’ because they weren’t at that lesson, we wouldn’t say: “Well, that’s OK. You don’t need to bother with reading and writing because you’re no good at it!” We wouldn’t even contemplate it, so why should we do it with maths?

This summer, I’m jointly organising a symposium at the International Congress for the History of Science in Rio, on History of Applied Mathematics, so that’s exciting. Also, along with my colleagues Robin Wilson and Jeremy Gray, (Jeremy was my Ph.D. supervisor), we’re finally getting to the point of publication of our two volume history of maths book. The first volume is almost at proof stage. It’s been a project that’s been going for about ten years, so I can’t wait for it to finally come to fruition!

The maths education department at the Open University is being reinvigorated and we’ve got some new staff so we’re looking into the possibility of producing a course combining the History of Mathematics and Maths Education. I’m really looking forward to having conversations about that because it would be a fascinating course to work on.

Whenever the Open University produce new maths courses, they like to include little bits of history in margin notes etc., and one of my other roles is to write or check them, because there’s a lot of misinformation on the web when it comes to history of maths. The truth is always as good as, if not better than, the fiction.

I’ve also been working on the mathematical models of a mathematician called Olaus Henrici, who was a President of the London Mathematical Society in the 19^{th} century. He started off as an engineer but then got into maths and became a strong proponent of projective geometry. I’m looking forward to writing up my research on this. I met someone at a conference in Germany who reproduces 19^{th} century mathematical models on a 3D printer, and he has produced some of the Henrici models for me and I now have my own ‘show and tell’ for my talks on Henrici, so that’s fun too.

http://www.mathematics.open.ac.uk/people/june.barrow-green

https://twitter.com/OUMathsStats

https://www.facebook.com/OUMathsStats/

Sir William Herschel and Caroline Herschel image credit: Wellcome Images [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Isaac Newton image credit: Popular Science Monthly

Sonia Kovalevskaia image credit: By “R. T.” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mona Lisa image credit: Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The post There are infinite possibilities for women in maths and your capacity is much, much greater than you believe – Professor June Barrow-Green, Maths Historian at the Open University appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>The post Overcoming my maths anxiety: Sometimes things might get difficult, but it doesn’t matter because I’ll cope now! – Nicky Mitchell, former Citizen Maths student appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>

“…it was just like having a tutor in my home working at my pace and my level, and the more I progressed, the more confident I felt of my own abilities…”

I have supported pupils in a primary setting since the mid-eighties, initially in a special school, providing education for children with moderate learning difficulties. After several years, I moved on to work alongside a specialist nursing team where I supported adults with behavioural issues living in the community.

The team worked hard but I found that long hours alone in an office did not suit my personality and I re-joined the special school where I’d previously worked. I definitely preferred being in a classroom setting. It was during this time that I became restless and felt that I needed to try other things in life.

My children were older and my daughter had set off on her first world adventure. I, on the other hand, went to work in a children’s home as a support social worker. Unfortunately, during this time a colleague and I were assaulted by two young residents. After this I decided to leave – I didn’t take that sort of behaviour at home and I certainly wouldn’t tolerate it in a working environment. Meanwhile, at home, my personal life was unravelling and my husband and I, sadly, divorced after twenty-three years of being together.

The following months led me to the school where I currently work. The pupils have inspired me to develop my own understanding and gain a greater depth of knowledge in a subject where I had always thought I had a reasonable grasp – maths.

However, it appeared that my mathematical ability was operating at a surface level – a result of teaching by rote during my own education in and around Kent. (I had attended six schools whilst my father progressed in his career and my early education was disrupted as a result. Something that saddens me to this day.)

So, last summer, I decided to participate in a free online learning course – Citizen Maths. It had been introduced to me by a colleague at work who had encouraged me to broaden my understanding of maths – an area of learning that produced a multitude of stress-related physical reactions throughout my whole body. These symptoms were real, powerful and had effectively held me back in all areas of my life.

Whilst attempting the course, I struck up correspondence with Seb Schmoller, a project director involved with the creation of the programme. He expressed an interest in my comments about maths anxiety – a condition which I believe is felt by many people. He sought my permission to post my comments on the Citizen Maths Twitter feed in order to help others by raising awareness of the problem.

Due to the fact that the pupils I’m working now with have shown great improvement in their learning, I thought it was time to find myself a new challenge in Citizen Maths. It certainly has tested me, but it was just like having a tutor in my home working at my pace and my level, and the more I progressed, the more confident I felt of my own abilities.

However, most importantly, I am now better able to understand myself – what held me back in the past, how I can respond differently now and why it’s important to love yourself. The main thing is that it helps you to understand that you can do something that you perhaps think you’ve been unable to in the past.

Life will continue to present opportunities, but I shall endeavour to grasp each one with a new-found confidence. Maths used to be a battle for me, but now it’s just a challenge. Sometimes things might get difficult, but it doesn’t matter because I’ll cope now!

https://twitter.com/CitizenMaths

https://www.facebook.com/citizenmaths

The post Overcoming my maths anxiety: Sometimes things might get difficult, but it doesn’t matter because I’ll cope now! – Nicky Mitchell, former Citizen Maths student appeared first on Womanthology.

]]>