Bachelor of Mathematics, Bachelor of Science (Honours), PhD
Why did you choose to study Mathematics at Newcastle?
I was very good at mathematics in high school, and I enjoyed the challenge. I never liked the application of mathematics to different areas, I just liked the pure mathematics that was all about thinking abstractly. A straight maths degree seemed the best way to follow this up.
Where are you currently working and what are you currently doing?
My first job after uni was as Assistant Professor at University of California, Irvine. I am now a "mathematical psychologist", working as a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle. I study basic things that your brain does constantly, such as remember small details and make very simple decisions. I develop mathematical models of how your brain might actually be carrying out these operations, then I evaluate those models by comparing their predictions to what people really do. That means I have to collect data from psychological experiments, and compare the predictions of the mathematical models to the real data.
What was the best thing about your degree program?
The degree program was demanding, but fun. There was a lot of flexibility so I could take the courses I really wanted to take, not just the ones I was required to take. So I took things that interested me, and this meant I enjoyed them and worked much harder at them. Also, in the maths degree, the classes were nice and small (after the first year) so we got much higher quality instruction from the faculty.
How has your Mathematics degree helped you in your professional life?
The maths degree prepared me very well for a wide range of research topics. I could easily have worked in many disciplines; not just psychology. The point is that the maths degree prepared me by developing a way of thinking about problems - not just by teaching me a whole range of answers to problems. Learning a way of thinking about problems is much more valuable than learning specific answers.
What advice would you give to future students considering studying Mathematics at Newcastle?
Do it! And don't listen to people who tell you that you must have a substantive application area as well. You just need to learn the maths. You can always pick and choose amongst application areas later, if you like.