Studying Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh

Studying Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh

October 27, 2019 4 By Stanley Isaacs


The University of Edinburgh is a wonderful
place to come to study because it’s one of the best universities in the world.
You get the advantages of the Scottish education system, where you get broad choice of topics
to begin with before you specialise; you’ll get the chance to meet some of the best researchers
in the world; and the student body is drawn from all over the globe.
I chose Edinburgh because I love the city and I like the outside courses option that
you can do. Currently I’m doing astronomy and a history course and then next semester
I’m taking up and extra maths course. I’m lecturing the course “Introduction to
Linear Algebra” which is the first course that students take when they come to do mathematics
at Edinburgh. I think these lectures are different from
traditional lectures because we use this electronic voting system.
We all have these “clickers”. They put a question on the board based on the reading we’ve done
previously, and we answer the question. If most people get it wrong then we have a discussion
among our peers, we re-vote, and hopefully the vote’s increased, like we all get the
right answer, and then we move on, we explain the theory and we move on to the next question.
We teach like this in first year because a lot of research has shown that interactive
teaching, interactive engagement of student where they’re actively thinking about problems
in lectures, actually works rather better than students sitting passively taking notes.
On Tuesdays we have a workshop. It’s where we give in our hand-ins, we get them back,
we get feedback on what we did wrong for the homework.
Normally we’re exploring a part of maths that we don’t do in our lectures. We really focus
on it in the workshop and we help each other through a bunch of questions.
Something about maths that you don’t necessarily know unless you study maths is that it’s quite
a collaborative thing to study. People believe that if you’ve studied maths,
you’ve got a lateral way of thinking. They know that there’s creativity involved, they
know there’s hard work. MathsBase is basically where you can go if
you need any help with the hand-in, or just something in a lecture you didn’t understand
at all, because there’s tutors always there and you can always go and ask them for help.
The reason that we have the MathsBase is that, so first-year students have a dedicated place
where they can go and work, and there will always be other maths students there that
they can talk to, and chances are they’ll be working on the same thing. We also have
the members of staff there about 5 to 6 hours a day.
First-year students also take part in MathPALs, which is run by higher-year students. So the
leaders will ask them at the start of the session, “what did you find hard this week
in the lectures?” Sometimes people come in with questions that
they want help with and we can, like, discuss it as a group. There’ll be weaker people and
stronger people in the group and everyone can help each other.
It’s a place where you can go and ask really stupid questions and they know exactly why
you’re asking them. It’s questions you wouldn’t dare ask a lecturer, but it’s fine to ask
them there. We really don’t mind, we’ve all been in that
position not that long ago. From second year and above, maths classes
take place in the James Clerk Maxwell Building, which is where the School of Mathematics is
based. In JCMB there are multiple computer labs,
private study rooms available, there’s a really nice cafe downstairs which has got lots of
open space. It’s good for working with people who aren’t necessarily on your degree programme.
The Maths Hub is fun, dynamic. It’s been newly renovated recently, and it’s just a really
nice, friendly environment to work and to relax a wee bit as well. It’s used as a work
space but it’s quite a bit more informal, so quite often people will be having lunch
and food and stuff. The computers are all state-of-the-art, you
can do some impressive things with them. It’s a really good way to learn an aspect of maths
that is really useful if you’re doing academia, but also it’s highly applicable if you’re
going into, say, engineering or finance or statistics.
Our regular BSc degree takes 4 years because you study a range of subjects in your first
2 years. But well-qualified candidates can come directly into second year and take mathematics
pretty much all the time from the start. We also have an MMath degree which adds an
extra year of Masters-level study to the end of the BSc. In that year, you’d be doing some
more advanced courses, of course, but also you would be doing a substantial dissertation
supervised by one of the academic staff. I also put on events in collaboration with
the Careers Service to help higher-year students decide what they want to do after they graduate.
The biggest problem is that their options are so wide.
The University does provide avenues for you to liaise with a wide array of careers and
help you to get into them. This summer I just did an internship, 10 weeks, doing oil and
gas investment banking, at quite a large American bank.
Maths degrees are valued by most employers. I’ve heard of people doing really well in
things like law. Any type of business is going to want mathematicians.
The skills are just so valued by employers – the problem solving, the logical, analytical
skills. My advice to students who are not sure whether
they want to study mathematics is first of all, it’s one of the most fun things that
you can do. Second, it’s part of human culture and a lot of what the world is built on, is
built on mathematics and how we understand the world. And third, it’s one of the most
applicable topics that there is: in statistics, in industry, in finance. And if you really
want to find out more, you should come and visit us on an Open Day.
Maths is so creative because of all the different ways you have to think to answer the questions.
Your mind is constantly, like, looking at every different angle of something.
I’ve definitely enjoyed studying at Edinburgh. I think Edinburgh’s a wonderful city to live
in, especially as a student. The University is great, it’s renowned worldwide. But I think
especially this department has been exceptional.