Liz was voted the winner of the Epidemic Zone in June 2017. Here she writes about using the £500 prize money to hold an event at her university to engage students with mathematics research and careers, and to develop a worksheet and interactive web-app.
If you’d like the chance to win funding for your own public engagement work, apply for the next I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here: imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
The majority of my prize money was used to fund an outreach event I helped develop, organise, and run on the 29th June 2018 at my workplace (the School of Mathematics at the University of Manchester).
The event was created for female year 12 school children with the aim of inspiring them to pursue maths at university and find out more about research as a career. In order to provide accessible role-models for the attendees, all of the organisers, speakers, and workshop leaders were women working in research mathematics; women are under-represented in mathematics jobs and particularly in academic research positions in maths.
The day consisted of three talks and a selection of interactive workshops. My personal favourite talk was about female mathematicians throughout history. This was a great chance to give some airtime to lesser known female mathematicians who made great contributions despite often being faced with rather challenging circumstances.
The impact of this was perfectly summarised in feedback written by one of the attending students who said “hearing about women who have achieved something in worse conditions than we have nowadays has inspired me to handle being in a male dominated job”.
As well as organising the day, I designed and ran a workshop on my research area of mathematical modelling of infectious diseases. I made a worksheet and interactive web-app for the students to use in order to gain an understanding of the SIR model: one of the most frequently used models in my research area.
My experiences on I’m a Scientist certainly helped me think about how to best describe my work to school students. I also got advice from friends who are secondary school teachers to ensure the material was at the correct level.
The feedback from both the students and their teachers about the event was very positive. A lot of the students found the day interesting and fun. I hope to make this an annual event, and we will build on constructive criticism given in the feedback, for example by letting students decide which workshops to attend in advance of the day and aiming it at year 10 students who are more likely to have not yet made decisions about university.
Designing and creating this web-app and worksheet required quite a large time commitment; in my experience as an academic doing outreach we are “funding rich” but “time poor”. Therefore, I aim to use these resources at further outreach events this year to make the most of the time I have invested.
Most of the spending was related to the Women in Research mathematics event described above, which also had funding from additional sources for lunch and the travel costs of speakers from beyond Manchester. Some of the prize money was also used to cover the travel costs of two speakers to the Databeers Warwick event held on 30th November 2017. I anticipate using the last bit of the prize money to fund my travel to future outreach events where I use my worksheet and web-app.