Photo:

Pamela Docherty

Favourite Thing: Learning new maths!

Me and my work

I try to work out maths problems that have never been solved before.

My area of research is on the relationship between Mathematical Physics and Algebra. I study integrable systems, which are models which describe moving things in the real world, from particles to planets. There are lots of dynamical systems in the real world, but integrable systems are particularly special because they contain a lot of symmetry, which makes them easier to solve. When I say ‘solve’ a system, I mean, can we calculate somehow where the particle or planet is going to be at a certain time? This is actually really hard to do. A good, simple example of an integrable systems is the mathematical pendulum, which you might have already studied in Physics.

My Typical Day

I read maths books and papers and try to understand them.

I work normal office hours, getting into my office around 8am and leaving around 5pm. Being a PhD student is very flexible, as nobody is looking over your shoulder to check what time you get in, but I like to work normal hours so I can have the evenings and weekends to myself. The vast majority of my day is spent reading books and papers, and trying to understand them. Unlike most other scientists, none of my work involves experiments or being in a lab, it’s all purely theoretical. In order to come up with new work in a certain field, you have to first become an expert in that field, which means reading other people’s work. I work mainly just with pen and paper, but sometimes use mathematics software called Maple, which can be very handy for big calculations. I also meet with my supervisor once or twice a week to discuss my work, and he helps me if I don’t understand something. I also tutor undergraduates once a week, which I enjoy.

What I'd do with the money

I’d use it to buy some fun maths games to take to schools in the area.

We have a great Schools Outreach Officer in the maths department here, and her job role involves lots of activities for schools in the area which aim to get young people more engaged with maths. We could spend the money on developing exciting new activities as part of the outreach programme.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Friendly, optimistic, adventurous

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Interpol

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I have skydived, that was quite fun!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I’d like to live in the Alps so I could ski every day. I would also wish for a superpower that meant I could understand concepts in maths instantly without having to work really hard on them! Finally, I wouldn’t say no to designer shoes…

What did you want to be after you left school?

I always liked languages as well as maths, so maybe a translator. Or an actuary, as I heard it was one of the highest paid jobs in the country!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Occasionally, always for talking.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I really love going to schools to show children that maths is fun, and it’s not just about arithmetic!

Tell us a joke.

There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t! (and that’s only one of many maths jokes I’ve got up my sleeve!)