The University of Edinburgh's first ever Mathematics Engagement Officer Julia Collins talks to us about her role in the Edinburgh International Science Festival and the significance of Haggis the Sheep.
|Degree Course||PhD Mathematics and Statistics|
|Year of Graduation||2011|
Your time at the University
I moved to Edinburgh after completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Bath, which makes me one of the privileged few to have lived in two world heritage cities in the UK.
My decision to come here was mainly because of the strong reputation of the maths department and my PhD supervisor, but I was also won over by the beautiful and atmospheric city.
For the first two years of my degree I was postgraduate representative for maths and helped to campaign for more office space, better teaching pay and better computing facilities. In one of the elections I dressed in a cape and Zorro mask and brought along my trusty sidekick Haggis the Sheep in an attempt to beat the other leading contender for the position: the departmental coffee machine. The staff and students here have a great sense of humour and I very much appreciated it during some of the difficult years of my PhD.
Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University
I am now employed as the University’s first ever “Mathematics Engagement Officer” - a dream role which enables me to indulge in my passion for talking about mathematics.
I spend part of my time giving public lectures and workshops (for example, to school groups or at science festivals), part of my time helping researchers to publicise their amazing work, and part of my time teaching undergraduates.
After finishing my PhD I couldn’t bring myself to leave either Edinburgh or the University!
It’s an incredibly varied job with no two days ever the same and allows me to meet many inspirational people, both inside and outside the University. The School of Mathematics here is very supportive of my career and have twice nominated me for a Royal Society of Edinburgh Prize for Public Engagement.
The city of Edinburgh is also a fantastic place to do mathematics engagement, with so many cultural activities going on all the time and lots of people who are passionate about communicating science.
The next few weeks will be very busy for us here gearing up for the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Together with another colleague and a keen team of students, we will be running a drop-in activity at the National Museum of Scotland all about symmetries in nature alongside some workshops to explore tiling patterns.
I will also be at the Mini Maker Faire on 7th April (the first of its kind in Edinburgh!) encouraging people to get involved in a maths/knitting project I am (jointly) running entitled Botanica Mathematica.
We’ll be making binary bonsai trees and Fibonacci flower garlands and hope to get as many people as possible participating!
To take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that the University of Edinburgh has to offer. There’s so much going on around the university and the city, so much support available for running activities of your own and so many enthusiastic people organising events, that it’s really a very special place to live.
A recent example was Innovative Learning Week which I helped to organise in mid-February, when there were over 200 events happening for students across all the different subjects. I’m very jealous that I’m not a student myself to be able to participate in it all!