Organised by PhD students from the School of Mathematical Sciences, the Undergraduate Research Seminars are a great way for students to explore areas of maths they might not find on a typical university syllabus in the UK.
We’ve put together a short article to give you the lowdown on what to expect from the Undergraduate Research Seminars. We spoke to one of the organisers and a current undergraduate student that regularly attends, so read on to hear what they had to say.
First things first, what are the Undergraduate Research Seminars? The Undergraduate Research Seminar is a series of hour-long sessions exploring the fun side of maths not always covered in lectures. These free sessions are organised and led by PhD students, and they make sure to introduce every topic in an enjoyable and accessible way.
There are also regular sessions where students can learn more about what it’s like to do a PhD or Master’s degree, as well as getting advice on applying for postgraduate studies.
All students from the School of Mathematical Sciences are welcome to join the sessions and free snacks are always provided!
When and where do they take place? The sessions take place in the Maths building on Wednesday afternoons during term time. They start at 1pm and run for an hour, including time for discussions.
What can students expect from the seminars?We asked one of the seminar organisers, Louis, and he told us, “students can expect to learn extra mathematical topics in an environment that is more relaxed and freeform than a typical lecture. There is usually one speaker per session, and their presentations give an insight into what it is like doing research, as well as showcasing what research is being done by the School of Mathematical Sciences.
The speaker is usually a PhD student, postdoc, or lecturer, but undergrad and master’s students are encouraged to give talks as well, especially if they are taking a project module. The informal environment of the seminar gives these students a space to practice and receive feedback from various sources before giving their formal presentation. Post-seminar discussions between the attendees and PhD students over some lunch are also a common occurrence.
What are some of the talks from the past year?We have included a few titles from the last 12 months below, but you can see a full list here: How can we understand cancer prognosis and improve therapies using maths? What does a Mathematician look like?NeurohydrodynamicsFrom PageRank to Biological NetworksWhat on earth is topological data science?Ricci Flow, the Poincare Conjecture, and Data Science
Why should students attend?Feitong, a final year Maths student, says “You are given the chance to learn new things that aren't on the syllabus. I've come across all sorts of maths that I probably would've never discovered on my own. Also, the PhD students who run the seminars are so kind and welcoming. As well as giving great talks on their own research and other topics in maths, they give really helpful advice about postgraduate education.”
Do the research seminars offer any support for finding jobs?While the main aim is to expand your knowledge of maths, you’ll develop so many of the soft skills you need to be successful at work: meeting new people, networking, critical thinking, presenting and much more. Current undergrad student Feitong told us: “I've never known what I wanted to do after I got my degree. Having gone to the seminars, I now know all these different career paths available to me as a mathematician. Before going, I didn't have a particular interest in any career paths as I thought the jobs available to me were boring, 9-5 office jobs, but now I know there are other options that are exciting and interesting.”
ImpactKnowing that the Undergraduate Research Seminars are having a positive impact on the student experience is really important to us. We have learned about students who chose their third-year project topic based on something they discovered and learned about at one of the seminars. This was a smart move in our opinion as they’ve now got an expert they can go to for friendly, informal advice in addition to their supervisor.
The seminars have also been instrumental in helping postgraduate students decide which areas of mathematical research they want to focus on in their PhD. The sessions give them first-hand access to research being done in the School that they wouldn’t necessarily get from their lectures, as well as the opportunity to grill our current PhD students.