Different perspectives on study groups …

From a secondary school teacher

To be invited to attend the European Study Group with Industry in UL this year as a teacher of applied maths at second level was a great privilege.  At a time when knowledge alone is following the same path as horse power, adaptive intelligence, the ability to know what to do when you don’t  know what to do, will define what it means to be educated for the uncertain challenges ahead. Mathematical modelling represents the very essence of this type of intelligence. The study group environment where professional applied mathematicians discuss and debate ideas on the way to a
solution is a marvellous example of how collaboration can work so effectively.

Running a mathematical modelling programme with Professor James Gleeson for secondary school students which is based on this study group model is made so much easier when I have had the opportunity to take part in the real thing. When young students are struggling to come up with ideas, are brainstorming , hitting dead ends , getting frustrated and having to start again, it’s very nice to be able to say , ‘that’s how it works in the real world’.

To be able to confidently tell students, based on first-hand experience, that people aren’t expected to know the answers, will often struggle to begin, that every suggestion is considered and discussed , and there is rarely a single solution to any problem is of huge benefit. The other aspect of being part of the study group is the immense pleasure of participating in problem solving at this level in a hugely supportive, collaborative and friendly environment. To be afforded this opportunity was a great pleasure and privilege and I would recommend whole heartedly to anyone offered the chance to get involved.

By Stephen O’Hara

Stephen O’Hara is a secondary school teacher at Clongowes Wood School


From a PhD student

In the last three years, I have attended three study groups, working on four problems and collaborating with over fifty academics and industrial representatives. Each study group has been different – different mathematicians, different problems, and different industrial partners have all resulted in unique experiences. The University of Limerick hosted the 128th European Study Group with Industry between June 12th-17th 2017. My experience with this study group and past ones has been overwhelmingly positive; they are one of the highlights of my socio-academic calendar.

From a social point of view, they are an excellent opportunity to meet and reconnect with like-minded individuals. At each study group, I have worked on entirely different problems alongside some really clever people. I have witnessed a variety of approaches that people bring to the problem-solving process; some people gather around the whiteboard sharing ideas and offering feedback to other group members. Other people keep their heads down and prefer to work alone. Others decide to work on multiple problems, and spend their time hovering around the different rooms. Many approaches to the same problem appear, but usually everyone collaborates with a shared sense of purpose which lends itself to a really positive work environment.

When I tell people that I am an applied mathematician, one of the most popular responses is: “I hated maths in school”, followed by “why do we even need maths?” I like this type of question-as a society, we should probably ask it to everyone whom the taxpayer funds! Thankfully, study groups have helped me to bolster my arsenal of responses; I can talk about the mathematics that is making life easier for people with diabetes, the mathematics underpinning microwaves or the mathematics behind solar energy. My research is not purely academic; it has real applications and some tangible and relatable value. Study groups showcase applied mathematics really well.

by Gary O’Keeffe

Gary is a PhD student at the University of Limerick

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