In October, I visited Caracas, Venezuela, where my brother works as Head of a school. Since my father hasn’t lived up to being an embarrassing dad, my brother has taken it upon himself to step in and fully enact this role by raving about my achievements to everyone! So, following another such instance, it fell upon me to give a talk to Years 10, 11, and Sixth Form at his school.
I gave the talk the title, “How We Apply Mathematics”, with the aim of presenting mathematics not often seen in school classrooms. Thus, in a similar vein to this website, I tried to present what I find to be truly beautiful about mathematics, including fancy pictures, humour (definitely a work in progress!), and no equations. It was an experiment of sorts, since I was flying against expectations and relied on my powers of speaking as much as the slides – things we don’t normally associate with mathematics in the class. But this was the point. The ultimate aim was to show how I find mathematics to be a flexible, creative subject, and the skills required to pursue it as a career are closely aligned with those applied by artists, painters, and musicians.
Having been introduced as the one thing my brother truly loved above all else (until his wife and beautiful daughter entered the world!), I delivered a talk for approximately 45 minutes – running through fractals, complex systems, cellular automata, my award-winning article on pendulum waves, and my current work of electricity forecasting.
It was pleasing to see the students were engaged – they asked interesting questions, such as, “How would you become a Professor?” and “What are you currently writing about?” I loved the experience on the whole, and used it to more recently deliver a similar, shorter talk to a similar age group of students from around the country. They had come to Oxford to learn more about the options that await them at university level and it was up to myself and two other researchers (from Law and Psychology) to show just how university can develop us as critically thinking, open-minded, and curious people. We particularly talked about passion for our subject being the key element that made us pursue such a career. Following this however, a tricky question was asked by a teacher: “How can you reconcile a passion for what you do with the large debt that students leave with following graduation?” It is a valid, and very real, point that must be considered by a potential undergraduate. While it wasn’t communicated to the audience, the speakers generally agreed that a university path is not for everyone – it really is more important that one follows one’s passions, and that may not necessarily lead to university.