Vicky NealeNov 5, 2021
Why Study Mathematics?
London Publishing Partnership 2020
Students and their families face a consequential choice in whether to pursue a degree, and in what area. For those considering mathematics programs, the choice may be particularly fraught: A gulf separates the exploratory and experimental mathematics done by professionals from the computational training of most secondary schools, and this can obscure the meanings of program options. Meanwhile, cultural anxieties and stereotypes can dissuade students who would flourish in mathematical careers. This despite mathematical professionals being among the most satisfied and well-compensated in their careers.
In Why Study Mathematics? (2020), Vicky Neale provides a compact guide to this juncture, which i expect students and their families and teachers will find hugely valuable. As part of the London Publishing Partnership's "Why Study" series, her book in Part I explores in detail the substance and varieties of math degrees, how students can shape them to their needs and interests, and what those who complete them go on to do after. For Part II, Neale gives the reader a deeper view into a selection of subfields and the work their practitioners do, including the technologically vital study of data compression and the (for now) more humanistic study of abstract networks known as Ramsey theory.
Dr. Neale has exceptional experience and skill as a mentor that comes through as she addresses questions that, in my experience, often aren't: Are mathematics degrees mostly for mathematically adept students? Once in a program, whom should i get to know? Where are all the job postings for "mathematician"? It was a treat to hear her expound further on the book, and i would suggest that anyone at the beginning of their professional life, with interest, aptitude, or just curiosity about mathematics, seek out this resource (or recommend it to their mentors and guidance offices!) as they weigh their options.
Suggested companion works:
Vicky Neale is the Whitehead Lecturer at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, and a Supernumerary Fellow at Balliol College. She teaches pure mathematics to undergraduates, and combines this with work on public engagement with mathematics: she gives public lectures, leads workshops with school students, and has appeared on numerous BBC radio and television programmes. One of her current interests is in using knitting and crochet to explore mathematical ideas. She is the author of Closing the Gap: The Quest to Understand Prime Numbers (Oxford University Press, 2017)—listen to her interview with Jim Stein about that book here.
Cory Brunson is an Assistant Professor at the Laboratory for Systems Medicine at the University of Florida. His research focuses on geometric and topological approaches to the analysis of medical and healthcare data.