Most people believe a career in mathematics will be confined to the four walls of a classroom or lecture hall and in most instances it probably is. What’s interesting though is that it doesn’t have to be!
It wasn’t until I completed a PhD in pure maths at the University of Nottingham that I realised how the mathematics skills I gained during my long career in education could be put to good use outside of academia. Having been a research and development engineer at Transversal for over two years now it is fair to say that maths skills open up plenty of diverse career opportunities in the twenty-first century.
Why did you choose to study maths at university level?
I was drawn to maths from a young age, I enjoyed problem solving and the abstract nature of the subject. After school I studied maths at Cambridge before heading to Nottingham to complete a PhD in pure maths.
Originally I took on a PhD as I wanted to be a mathematician. At the time I was interested in writing research papers and contributing to academia but the practical side of maths started to become more appealing to me throughout the course of my PhD.
I studied higher order modular forms, which is a branch of analytic number theory, at university so my PhD material does not directly apply to my current engineering role. That said, my time at Nottingham was vital in that it helped me develop my problem solving skills and prepared me for the level of independent learning and development I am given at Transversal.
How did you find out about your current job?
I joined Transversal about two and a half years ago. I was working at a software testing firm in London at the time and my friend – who has now been with the company for over three years – suggested I apply for the upcoming research position.
There are actually lots of research and design jobs in Cambridge but I was attracted to this role as I felt the company offered a flexible working environment where innovation would be rewarded.
What are you main responsibilities in your role?
I work as part of the broader research and development team at Transversal, with each of us holding a specific role that helps contribute to the wider research agenda. The content produced by me and my team adds value to the business in two ways:
1) Our work is used to showcase our expertise and products to existing customers and equally to get buy-in from new business prospects
2) Our team is often approached by customers who have a very specific problem. It is our job to then build the technology to fix it.
The great thing about my job is the variety. I take on a different role everyday depending on the engineering element and customer issue I am being tasked with. I am then responsible for presenting the outcome of this brief to a stakeholder at Transversal either through a demo, 1:1 meeting or group meeting.
What attracted you to the role and what skills do other graduates need for similar roles?
I liked the flexibility of the role and the level of creativity that Transversal was trying to encourage. In my role I am more or less approaching new problems from scratch, which is becoming decreasingly common in the field of coding. I see my role as open ended; if I make a convincing case for a piece of code that I think would be useful for customers and consumers I am given the freedom to create it.
You definitely have to be a self-starter here as the company maintains a ‘light touch management structure’. What I mean by this is that I don’t have to go through chains of management to get sign-off on a project, which is brilliant but does require a certain level of proactivity and the ability to see a project through from start to finish.
What would you like to achieve in the future?
For people like me who enjoy research and development the future holds much of the same: if what you enjoy is the shop floor then you work to stay on the shop floor. Although I expect advancements in technology will affect the fundamentals of my day-to-day work I have no desire to progress to a management only level.
For now at least I am enjoying the role I have created for myself at Transversal. I have a good knowledge of algorithms and really enjoy experimenting with complicated mathematical problems on a daily basis.
Do you have any advice for students wanting to pursue a career in maths or engineering?
With advancements in technology happening now at an astonishing rate, the new opportunities for maths and engineering graduates are endless. And while there are graduate schemes that can help you secure an entry position in engineering I would definitely say that a masters/PhD level education goes a long way in setting you up for success.