From the archive, 7

Sitting on my shelves were various old notebooks in which I’d kept diaries from time to time. Four of them contained a training diary from 1987, my first year at Queen Mary and the year I ran the London Marathon for the first time. It is not my usual training diary with brief entries for mileages, etc. I had given myself a quarto page per day, and even if I didn’t run I had let my pen run on about what was happening in my life and how my training was going.

I am typing them up, though I doubt if anyone will ever want to read them: it will come to around 100 pages altogether.

But tucked in to the page for Monday 16 February 1987 was an interesting find, the programme for the third anniversary celebration of the School of Mathematical Sciences. The format of the event was: two lectures by new or newly-promoted members of the academic staff, with tea between the lectures and followed by a glass of sherry and then dinner (for which we had to pay). On this occasion, the lectures were given by me and Malcolm MacCallum: I was new, and Malcolm had just been made a professor of applied mathematics. As my diary puts it,

Without having planned it, we switched roles; I talked about my experiments on sum-free sets, phrased in terms of spectroscopy and the uncertainty principle; while he touched on Galois theory and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem as well as the differential geometry, with the physics left for a footnote at the end.

There are also approving comments in my diary about how the return in theorems-per-pound on the free tea was probably far greater than for just another library book.

But what I want to record here is the contents of the leaflet, the School’s Annual Report. This really takes me back to those far-off days, and reminds me what a great place the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary College was at the time. It’s also interesting to see how some of the same battles are still being fought! Here it is in full.

This has been the year of the UGC ratings, both Pure and Applied Mathematics were rated as “conducting research of international standing” with Pure Mathematics judged as outstanding. The School was also allocated a substantial increase in funded home postgraduates as well as some increase in undergraduates. The new UGC formula grant allocation is based on research judgements and weights postgraduates, so that extra resource came to the College under the Mathematics heading: we hope to feel the benefit of this as the College funding begins to reflect that of the UGC.

Many colleagues participated in a range of international meetings, with Malcolm MacCallum chairing the Organising Committee of the 11th International Conference on Relativity in Stockholm. The School provided members of several SERC and ESA committess (Gruenberg, Rowan-Robinson, Roxburgh and Williams). The School provided editors of four major journals: Pure and Applied Algebra (Gruenberg), Symbolic Logic (Hodges), Classical and Quantum Relativity (MacCallum) and Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (Collins). In addition staff served on the Editorial boards of the Journal of Symbolic Computation, Journal of Combinatorial Theory, Combinatorica, European Journal of Combinatorics, Journal of Philosophical Logic, European Journal of Physics, Solar Physics, and of the Bulletin, Journal and Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society.

The School ran a large number of research seminars in Pure Mathematics, Logic, Relativity, Dynamics, and Astronomy, and co-organised the London Algebra Colloquium and the London Space Plasma Physics Colloquium. We also had a lively series of postgraduate research courses as well as a range of M.Sc. courses on the London M.Sc. in Mathematics and the College M.Sc. in Astrophysics.

There has been a large number of personnel changes — upwards rather than downwards. Malcolm MacCallum was appointed to a Personal Professorship and Don Collins and John Papaloizou promoted to Readerships. Peter Cameron joined us as a Reader under a replacement scheme, and Len Soicher was appointed as a Mathematician/programmer, a new post established with special funds allocated under the Universities Academic Initiative Scheme for work in Computational Group Theory. Bernard Carr moved onto the permanent lecturing staff at the beginning of the year on completion of his SERC advanced fellowship, filling a post established with special earmarked funds from the University. Nigel Weiss and Douglas Gough, both readers in Mathematics and Astronomy at Cambridge, were appointed as honorary professors in the School. The School has also recently been awarded additional earmarked equipment monies by the University. The Secretarial staff are a source of strength and we are very pleased to have such a happy working environment.

The number of visitors and research fellows continues to grow, as does the number of postgraduates. We are especially pleased that we will have 3 SERC Advanced Fellows starting on October 1st — Peter Kropholler, Andy Lawrence and Phil Palmer. As there were only 15 such awards across the all subjects in the country, for the School to have attracted 3 of these is a considerable success. This is very desirable and contributes to the stimulating research environment we have established. But it exacerbates the very serious space shortage facing the schoolm which is now squeezed into 47% of UGC norms. We are continually pressing the College to solve this problem and are grateful to the Computer Centre for transferring to us one extra room. But we are still faced with the unpleasant task of turning away visitors for lack of space to accommodate them, and the Head of School has become an expert on “the packing problem”.

This shortage of space has inhibited the School form developing its M.Sc. programme in Mathematical Computation, an area where we have a range of expertise, we hope some satisfactory solution will soon be found to these problems.

The Astronomy Unit, together with the Astronomy Group in Physics ran the SERC Summer School for new research students in their subject, a two week residential course for some 60 students. The whole event was successful with a new generation of students starting their careers with admiration for Bernard Carr’s abilities to operate a slide projector. We were able to initiate the new Principal into the workings of our subject at a successful and enjoyable dinner at the Halls of residence.

The shortage of Mathematics teachers in Schools is a serious national problem and one that is of great concern to Universities. Ian Roxburgh joined the newly formed Steering Committee of the National Committee of Heads of Departments of Mathematics, which has been exerting pressure, and offering suggestions to the DES on how to tackle the problem. The School has responded to the UGC call for initiatives to address the problem with proposals for a series of short intensive in-service courses for both qualified and unqualified Mathematics teachers, and with a request for funds for teacher fellowships. This year the School ran a number of one day conferences for School teachers, ably organised by Dave Arrowsmith, and very well attended. All involved, lecturers and participants judged them to be highly successful and worth continuing in future years. One benefit for the School is that the applications for undergraduate places have seen a dramatic rise of 28%.

Morale in the School is high in spite of our space problems. We look forward to another year with optimism and hope.

About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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