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An academic’s view on Maths

Dr Stephen Muirhead gives his perspective. 

Stephen Muirhead

Stephen Muirhead joined the School of Mathematical Science in September 2018 as a Lecturer in Mathematics. So far, he has been involved in undergraduate teaching (lecturing the 3rd year module Financial Mathematics I, taking tutorials in some other subjects), supervising 3rd-year and Masters projects, and he is also Deputy Director of Undergraduate Admissions which means he is involved in events such as Open Days. 

What drew you to your subject? 

My research is in probability theory, which is the study of uncertainty. Probability theory provides a set of tools that other disciplines - be it physics, sociology, meteorology, finance etc. - can apply in order to cope with uncertainty in modelling assumptions or partial information. So in that sense, it is a very applied subject.  

“At the same time, many of the tools in probability theory have their origins in much more pure areas of maths, in particular analysis, but also combinatorics, geometry and other areas. So it's a branch of maths that is unique in the depth of its interaction with other disciplines. 

What about teaching Maths do you enjoy the most? 

I really enjoy interacting with students who are engaged with the subject, whether that is through discussions in class or chatting after class. It is always interesting to hear students' perspectives, and it often gives me ideas for new ways to present and explain the material.  

Which aspects of your research do you find the most rewarding? 

“People often perceive mathematics as being done in isolation, but almost all my research has been in collaboration with others. I have been lucky to be able to work with a range of people who share similar interests and research goals but who have different backgrounds and areas of expertise.  

“Mathematics is so broad - it is impossible for any one person to have a thorough understanding of all of it - that being able to access the expertise of others is essential. It's also just more enjoyable being able to share your successes (and failures). 

And what do you see as the benefit of studying maths?  

“The point of studying mathematics is not really to learn cover-to-cover the material covered in modules, but rather it is to learn ways to think and reason through problems. 

The quantitative and problem-solving skills that students develop in a maths degree equips them to go into a huge range of career paths, be it data analytics, statistics, finance, actuarial science etc. It is an extremely most versatile degree that opens many doors for graduates.”