Tag Archives: UK

The Spectre of Maths Anxiety

What an anger-inducing report for a Monday morning. It is a good report, but the subject made me angry. Reading a full historical account of why there is such a thing as maths anxiety at all, and why it persists into the 21st century, and why it is especially more prevalent among women, is so depressing. Besides, I’m certain that things are better (or at least less bad) in countries other than the UK, especially in ex-state socialist education systems. The gender imbalance exists, but is far less horrible – and this is linked, I believe, with the far less rigid “class” structure of the societies. Also in places like Italy and Portugal. How come nobody bothers to look and steal the good ideas. 
The full report (very readable):
The Fear Factor: Maths Anxiety in girls and women, 2015, by Samantha Callan, a report commissioned by Maths Action.
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Irish universities’ gender gap: even worse than in the whole UK

“New data from the Higher Education Authority reveals that women are massively under-represented in senior academic positions across virtually all of the country’s third-level institutions.

The figures, gathered late last year, show that in the country’s top universities between just 14% and 20% of professorships are held by women.

It is the first time the HEA has published a detailed breakdown of the gender gap at senior levels in the sector.”

Read more here http://www.rte.ie/news/2014/1203/664255-academic-posts/

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FT: “The North needs to retain its science graduates”

According to a new report, tech startups are disproportionately concentrated in the UK’s south. Unsurprising, really. Some analysis and (a small number of) counterexamples here –  article byBy Murad Ahmed and Chris Tighe


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Is there a life after grad school? The story of a Computer Science PhD

Here’s an interesting interview with PhD student in Die Zeit (my translation)

CAROLA DOERR, 29, gained her PhD from Saarland University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics. 

A wrong decision

Will I wake up some day and just know it for sure? Do I want to work in science or in industry? This decision gave me stomach ache for a long time while I was doing my PhD. I had previously spent two years working for McKinsey who then funded my PhD. My topic was random algorithms. In addition, I held a post at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics [Computer Science] in Saarbrücken and a grant from Google. I never had to worry about money. But I asked myself: Which lifestyle is right for me? Which goes better with family?

After submitting my PhD, I first worked part time at McKinsey and the Max Planck Institute, because I still couldn’t make a decision. At some point, however, I realised that it would be difficult to reconcile the lifestyle of a consultant with my desire to have children. At the Max Planck Institute, already two colleagues had children. I asked the director how he assessed my chances for a permanent position in science. He was quite confident . These were three signals for me. Now I live in Paris and work at the Pierre-and-Marie-Curie-University. I have a permanent research job and I can decide freely how much teaching I want to do. My husband is a professor at another university in Paris. Our daughter is seven months old.

If you read German, here is the full article with five more stories by PhD students in other subjects:




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Q-step: better quantitative skills for students and social scientists

Q-Step is a new initiative for boosting the quantitative skills of UK social scientists.  If you’re an interested teacher, researcher, student, stakeholder etc., you can go to their inaugural event on 17 March in London:

“The UK has a shortage of social science graduates with the quantitative skills needed to evaluate evidence, analyse data, and design and commission research, skills that are increasingly in demand from employers across all sectors. Yet fewer post-16 students in the UK study maths and statistics than any other comparable country, and quantitative skills are not consistently assessed in social science A levels. This has lead to a skills deficit amongst students moving from secondary to higher education.”

Q Step Logo_landing_page

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I wonder…

Peter Higgs, Emeritus Professor at Edinburgh, who gave the name to the Higgs boson, has never sent an email. In a recent interview for the Guardian he called himself “an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises” and said that it’s “difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”

I was just watching some lectures by Richard Feynman with my office lunch. I don’t understand most of the physics… yet… but I can now see that he was not only a great writer but also a great lecturer. That made me wonder what would Feynman say about the REF (UK research excellence framework). Actually, having read a couple of his books, I don’t really wonder at all. I think he would have called it “bullshit” and gone on to produce research with far more impact than most of us ever dream of producing, and be very bad at “creating demonstrable impact”. I realise that universities can’t be run by people like Higgs and Feynman. But I do wish that impact assessment wasn’t actually impeding great research and stifling the flight of thought of scientists and researchers.

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