I went to a regular state-funded comprehensive school (or secondary school in Scotland), in a town near Glasgow.
In GCSEs/National 5s I did Chemistry, Graphic Communication, English, Maths, Modern Studies, Music, Physics and Spanish. In Highers (AS Level?), I did Chemistry, English, Maths, Music and Physics. In Advanced Highers/A Levels, I did Maths, Music and Physics. I did an undergraduate BSc degree in Maths at the University of Strathclyde, then a masters degree in Statistics at Lancaster University. Just now I'm doing a PhD in Medical Statistics at the University of Cambridge.
During high school and university, I spent five years working in a supermarket. After I graduated, I spent one year working with university students, then I was unemployed for a year. Sometimes I worried that I would never get another job, but I applied to do a Masters degree and was accepted onto the course. The university gave me a studentship, which is like being paid to go to university. This was really helpful, because I couldn't afford to pay by myself. After my Masters degree, I got a job with the Medical Research Council, helping to design and analyse clinical trials.
PhD student in biostatistics
Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit. Sometimes people think that scientists are all old men, but we’re really not! Here are some photos of us:
During the day I'm a PhD student, and in the evening I play drums in a rock band. I like board games and animals.
I’m a PhD student from Glasgow, though I live in Cambridge. I live with two cats and two chihuahuas, which can make working from home a little noisy sometimes! I play drums in a band called Psychic Lemon, which helps me focus on things other than PhD work. I enjoy playing board games (handy when you’re stuck inside!), cooking all different kinds of vegan food and watching films with a huge bowl of popcorn.
How I Use Maths In My Job:
New medicine is tested by doing a trial, where the medicine is given to a small number of people and the results are recorded. However, trials take a long time. The aim of my PhD is to invent trials that don’t take as long, which uses probability and statistics.
I use statistics to speed up trials of new drug treatments.
Before any new medicine is given to the public, it has to be tested to make sure it works. New medicine is tested by doing a clinical trial, where the medicine is given to a small number of people and the results are recorded. The aim of my PhD is to invent trials that don’t take as long. Faster trials mean that a new medicine that works can get to the public more quickly. Faster trials also mean that when something doesn’t work, we can quickly move on and try something else instead. Specifically, I use statistics to work out the probability that a new medicine will work or not, before the end of the trial, so that sometimes the trial can be ended early.
My PhD is in biostatistics, which just means using statistics for health, and statistics is really just maths. People sometimes think that the only maths jobs in the world are maths teacher and accountant, but there are lots of interesting maths jobs out there, and this is one of them!
My Typical Day
I work in an office with PhD students and other people who work in statistics. My normal day mostly involves sitting at a computer. However, at the computer I'll do very different things in one day -- sometimes I'll write a computer program, or I'll create interesting images of my findings and write about them. Other times I might work with a doctor to look at a new medicine and tell them if it's working or not.
I work in an office with PhD students and other people who work in statistics. The work we do involves using statistics for health, so it’s known as biostatistics.
My normal day mostly involves sitting at a computer. However, at the computer I’ll do very different things in one day:
- Computer programming: I design new types of trials for medicine using computer coding. Coding can look difficult if you haven’t done it before, but you can learn piece by piece, like a new language.
- Create interesting images of my findings: This also involves computer programming, but can be a little bit like being a designer as well. I need to think about how to explain a lot of information or a complicated idea using just a few images.
- Write about my findings: I might write a long essay all about the work I’ve done, then send it to a publishing company. That company might publish it so that other scientists can read about my findings.
- Analyse the results of a new trial. A doctor might have run a trial and is now looking for someone who knows about statistics to to look at the results and tell them if their new medicine is working or not. I analyse the results using a computer program.
Other things that I might do, but not every day:
- I might meet up with doctors I’ve been working on a trial with. We could discuss the best way to design a trial for a new medicine. If the trial has finished, I might be giving a presention to the doctor (or doctors), to explain all the trial results.
- Travel! People who work in statistics often give talks about their research findings. This might be at a large conference with 1,000 people, or it might be a small meeting of ten people at a university. Conferences are a great way to see the world and find out about new research at the same time. Also, you end up meeting lots of the same people and making friends. I’ve presented my research in the USA, Belgium, Austria and all over the UK.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Fun party guy
What's your favourite use for maths in everyday life?
Altering recipes when cooking or baking
What did you think about Maths when you were in school?
I thought it was ok -- I didn't realise I could use maths to help people
What did you want to be after you left school?
I had no idea!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not much, but when I was 17 I bumped into my music teacher in a nightclub...
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I'd like to be a cook -- more working with numbers!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Go! Team
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I've played gigs across the UK and Europe, which was fun
Tell us a joke.
Mitch Hedberg: "I haven't slept for ten days... because that would be too long."