‘The World’s Most Interesting Mathematician’ and the Maths Scholarship Scheme

Sometimes you need people to believe in you. In year 9 at school, my parents were told that I might get a C at GCSE maths but would never end up being “mathsy”. My dad sat me down and told me that if I really wanted to work with aeroplanes, that was only going to happen if I improved my maths. Step forwards the wonderful Mr Mullen, my GCSE maths teacher (who also was an accomplished guitarist, wore Dr Martin shoes and had more than a passing resemblance to John Lennon) I can clearly remember him turning to me and saying “you know you can do this, don’t you” as he gave me my test result. I wasn’t sure I could, but I did get a B at GCSE, enough to get onto my A level maths (I got a B in that too)

I’ve worked with aeroplanes and I’ve worked in maths so to many people I’m “mathsy”, but I’ve certainly never thought of myself as being particularly good at maths. I certainly would never, ever have entertained the idea of entering a competition. But like I said, every now and again you need someone to believe in you. Last year Nira Chamberlain won the Big Internet Math Off to be crowned the World’s Most Interesting Mathematician.  He’s President Elect of the IMA, in Who’s Who and the Power List and is an all-round nice chap.  He nominated me to enter the Math Off this year. I couldn’t get “no” out fast enough. Only my husband and kids told me to get a grip. Nira then told me he thought my maths was good enough.  Fear swallowed I said yes.

Only learning isn’t something you do alone. Communicating all the wondrous excitement of maths needs practice and help from those who’ve been at this longer than you.  Being part of a community that loves and teaches maths is a really amazing thing. When I mentioned to the Scholarships team that I was taking part, I found that they too believed in me.  At my most nervous, they calmed me down. When I wasn’t sure what to do, they had a bank of resources and ideas to look through (and a very cool Bernoulli blower and aerofoil) My confidence wobbling, they got out on social media and shared my journey.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of this fantastic scheme for six years. This summer I saw the scheme from the other side of the fence and it blew me away. This scheme is underpinned by a team at the IMA that go above and beyond to create a welcoming application process and supportive community. That is a powerful combination in so many ways. If you’re not sure about applying, have a go. There is a team that will help you all they can – a team that believes in you. If you’ve got questions about teaching and communicating maths, ask. There is a community there to help.  

It took one teacher’s comment, that has stayed with me a lifetime, to start my journey in maths. This year I learnt again the power of people believing in you and just how wonderful working in maths really is.  

Dr Sophie Carr