Uni, Careers and the Great Unknown…

… by Mark / from London / MA Philosophy and Mathematics / 3rd Year (UG)

I’m a 3rd year undergraduate student studying Philosophy and Mathematics. Applying to university without being absolutely sure of what you want to study or what you want to do afterwards can be quite intimidating. When I applied to Edinburgh, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after university and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at university! I had no idea if Maths was for me, but that was exactly why I came to Edinburgh.

Undergraduate degrees in Scotland are four years long, with two pre-Honours years and two Honours years (the Honours ones are the ones that determine your final grade). This means that you’ve got much more of a chance to try other things in your first two years and you could even get the chance to change your degree without having to repeat a year. I’ve done just that. When I started my first year, I was studying for a degree called Mathematics (MMath), which is a 5-year combined undergraduate and master’s degree in mathematics. At the end of second year, I switched to Philosophy and Mathematics (MA). Of course, switches aren’t guaranteed, and you need to make sure you take the required courses, but the university always does its best to allow students to change degree programmes if that’s what they want to do. What I’m saying here is that if you’re not sure what you want to do, Edinburgh’s great because it allows you to continue studying subjects other than Maths and to try new ones, whilst simultaneously letting you find out what it’s like to study Maths at university. In many other places, that’s simply not possible. Edinburgh has helped me to realise that Maths is for me, but that I also love Philosophy, and I don’t think that would have happened elsewhere.

Studying at Edinburgh won’t just help you to realise whether or not your subject is really your subject. Studying here has also helped me to realise what I want to do when I graduate. At the start of this academic year, I got involved with an initiative one of my lecturers was creating, becoming a School of Mathematics Curriculum Ambassador. The scheme came about because of the widespread shortage of Maths teachers in Edinburgh’s high schools. In some schools, Maths lessons were being taught by teachers from other departments who were not mathematicians. In Trinity Academy, the headteacher was desperate enough to write a letter to his pupils’ parents asking if any of them could come in to teach Maths. My lecturer’s idea was to send some of us undergraduates into high schools around Edinburgh to help in Maths lessons and act as the “mathematician in the room” if needs be. I’d thought about teaching before and worked with children in a few roles, but I’ve enjoyed my time in my school so much I’m now fairly sure I want to go into teaching after graduating.

The Curriculum Ambassadors scheme (which may or may not run in subsequent years) isn’t the only way that Edinburgh’s School of Mathematics helps students who are interested in careers in education. There’s also a course that is currently available to Mathematics undergraduates, which is usually taken in 4th year, called ‘Mathematical Education’. A part of this course involves studying of the theory of mathematics education and then going on short placements in primary schools to put some of that theory into practice. Courses like this offer a great head start when it comes to getting experience relevant to education, and I think the same quality and relevance of that experience would be tricky to find elsewhere.

For students interested in other sectors, there are a plethora of opportunities available. Undergraduate students currently have the opportunity to do a ‘Mathematics Project’ in 4th year, which is especially valuable to those students who are interested in a career in academia. This is an extended project offering students the opportunity to investigate a subject in depth under the supervision of an experienced mathematician. This offers students a great taster of something that is slightly more similar to postgraduate study and serves to help students to figure out if further study is for them whilst also strengthening their mathematical skills and understanding.

For students who are interested in using their maths degree in a technical setting, the university’s Careers Service offers a lot of support. The service’s online portal, ‘MyCareerHub’ is an excellent resource that lists lots of opportunities, such as summer internships, one-year placements in businesses or industry that you can complete after your degree or on a sabbatical (subject to school approval) and volunteering opportunities that might be relevant. You can also stop by the Careers Service to talk to an advisor if you have any particular questions. If there’s a particular opportunity you’ve set your sights on, the Careers Service even offers workshops where they’ll look over an entire application you’ve written out and give you feedback and advice before you send it off.

If you take one thing away from this painfully long-winded post, let it be this: although not knowing what you want to do with your degree can be daunting, there are lots of little things at Edinburgh that will help you on your way to figuring that out. Hardly anyone knows what they want to do, so you shouldn’t worry too much about it. A Maths degree is extremely valuable, and (if my experience is anything to go by) if you’re already thinking about studying Maths, I’d say that probably means it’s for you.

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