Being a Female Mathematician
What's it like being a Mathematician?
Aoife lives in Greenwich with her partner Dean, her piano Roland and guitar Floyd. She loves cheese, rugby, live music and comedy. She gives talks for kids in schools and theatres around the UK (www.mathsinspiration.com). Her claim to fame is that she was in the final stages of auditions to replace Carol Vordeman on countdown, but Rachel Riley beat her to it!
Job title: Associate Director & Adjunct Professor
Current employer: Movement Strategies
Hours: Around 40+ hours/week, it varies a lot!
How long have you been practising in this field? 10 years.
What’s your job title and location?
I'm an Associate Director and Adjunct Professor in maths/statistics/computer science/crowd dynamics. I work at Movement Strategies, which is a company that specialises in crowd flow planning. I'm based in London, but work on international projects around the world.
In your current role, what do you spend your time doing?
I study the way that people move around in stadiums, cities, tall buildings, museums, hospitals and the like. I collect data and then use it to solve problems, for example, will it hold enough people? Will they be able to use the space effectively? Will they be able to get out in an emergency? Will there be big queues for the toilets at a festival?! I get to work with some awesome sites, such as Wembley Park, making sure that the big crowds going to see the football (or going to see Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran) are safe and comfortable.
What's it like working in your role? What does a typical day look like?
The best thing about being a consultant is that there is no typical day. You get to work with lots of companies and take on different kinds of projects at the same time. Each project is different, but it always starts with a meeting where you talk through what problems need solving. Then you work out how to solve them, which might mean doing some maths, stats and computing calculations or might mean reviewing designs drawn by architects to check that they are going to work for crowd flow. At the end you write a report or give a presentation to show the solutions you have found. It is a great feeling to know that you have solved a problem and that your advice has made things safer.
I'm currently working with some football clubs so often travelling around the country on site visits to stadiums. I also give lectures for Universities in the UK and in America to teach people about the maths of crowd flow. So there can be lots of travelling and lots of chances to meet new people. But some of my favourite days are in the office with our team, or working from home solving problems in my pajamas!
Has anyone ever been surprised when you told them that you were in this role?
Yes - working in a technical job, having an unusual (Irish) first name and the title "Dr", most people think I'm a man when they read my full name. So I sometimes find people are surprised to find I'm a woman when I turn up to a meeting. Once I was asked when Dr Hunt was arriving!
Are there any specific qualifications you are required to have in your field?
It's a relatively new field and we need a variety of people, so we come from a variety of backgrounds: maths, geography, science, stats, psychology, sociology, health and safety, computer science etc. It's brilliant working with people who have a totally different set of skills to you and working together to solve a problem.
Tell us more about your career journey. How did you get to where you are today?
I took Maths at A-Level (along with English, Psychology and Media Studies) because I enjoyed them all. I took a couple of gap years to play in a rock music band (!) - we toured around the UK for a bit. I also got involved with community groups, co-founding a council called the West Sussex Youth Cabinet, to get the voice of the local youth into politics. Then I went to the University of Greenwich (so that I could keep playing in the band while studying).
I chose a degree in maths but had no career plans... and so I ended up taking a PhD position in a research group that specialised in evacuation safety as I wanted use maths to do something practical. My research was about how to evacuate people quickly and safely from a hospital. Since then, I've been a researcher, lecturer, a consultant, public speaker and (ONCE) a stand-up comedian.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
Maths, Art, Music, English, Science, German.
Was there anything you liked doing at secondary school that helped you get to this career?
I loved school, and really loved maths. There are lots and lots of careers out there for people who like maths. And you don't necessarily have to be brilliant at it! It isn’t just the top of the class that end up getting great jobs, but it’s important that you try your best. Even if you don’t get the highest grades, the problem solving skills you learn through maths are exactly what most employers look for.
What did you want to be as a child when you 'grew up'?
I had no idea! I am very pleased I didn't make up my mind too early.
Can you remember what your parents reactions were to that aspiration?
My parents always encouraged me to do what I loved, regardless of what the career goal might be. Life is shorter than you think, so you must do what you think might make you happy.
Can you remember your parents or teachers wanting or encouraging you to go into a specific career? And was this linked to your gender?
I remember my A-Level maths teacher telling me not to take maths at university. I took it anyway. I got first class degree and then a PhD, and I'd love to find him now and tell him that!
What do you think are attitudes towards and expectations of women in your particular role?
I'm part of a small friendly company, and we work very closely with each other, so there is no room for negative gender attitudes. Of course, there are still some lurking stereotypes in these kind of engineering or technical fields, but I have found the best way to deal with them is to be the example that proves them wrong and always support other girls and women who are trying to do the same.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
My favourite part is working with lovely people, solving different problems every day and sometimes getting free tickets to concerts!
What are 3 things you have to like to do your job?
Problem solving, variety, fun.
What advice would you give to young girls who are aspiring to be in your role, or who maybe haven't even considered it as a career?
Give it a go! There are lots of different careers out there (too many for teachers to tell you about). It is fine to try something, see how you go and then try something else. The idea of choosing one job for your whole life is an old-fashioned idea. Go and do something that excites you.
Hours: 8 hours/day
Starting salary: There’s no ‘typical’ salary but similar engineering fields would be in the range of £24k-£30k.
Qualifications required: "Crowd dynamics is a relatively new field and we need a variety of people, so we come from a variety of backgrounds: maths, geography, science, stats, psychology, sociology, health and safety, computer science etc." - Aoife
Stats: 1 in 5 girls who take two STEM subjects at A-level. 37% of girls took A-level maths after achieving A* or A at GCSE, compared to 51% of boys. Source: Sciencefocus.com
"There are lots of different careers out there (too many for teachers to tell you about). It is fine to try something, see how you go and then try something else. The idea of choosing one job for your whole life is an old-fashioned idea. Go and do something that excites you."
Institute of Mathematics and its applications (IMA) exists to support the advancement of mathematical knowledge and its applications and to promote and enhance mathematical culture in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, for the public good.: https://ima.org.uk/
If you like maths, check this out and join mathscareers.org.uk