Monday, 9 May 2016

Hmmm ... where were all the girls ?

I spent the day in Cambridge on Saturday at Clare College, attending the Faculty of Mathematics Open Day. It's been a bit of a pipe dream of mine to continue my education when the nest becomes empty which may be as soon as next year. Where better to study that at the college that bears my name ( albeit a different spelling but that's a minor detail ) and has the most fabulous gardens, the prettiest bridge , one of the best choirs and a dining hall where you could pretend you were at Hogwarts. Shallow I know but then life can be and I certainly am.

I'd been smitten by the place when I'd visited Cambridge earlier in the year and decided there and then to apply. Can you teach an old dog new tricks ? Well, most mature students may forget first principles of mathematics if they haven't practised them in a while but as I'm fondly acquainted with them on a daily basis, why not ?

Funny that when I was at University, the last place I'd want to spend a sunny day was in the library but now, with the benefit of maturity and a smidgeon of wisdom, I couldn't imagine anything lovelier than to immerse myself in the world of academia and lose myself to a day of Calculus. There's something quite beautiful and absorbing about Mathematics that enables you to block out the irritations of family life like ' What's for dinner ?' and ' How come we haven't got any peanut butter? ' or even ' You should have woken me, now I'm going to be late '  as if everything and anything is always your fault. Time to call my own agenda.

My first observation on arrival at the college was the buzzing that was emanating from the helicopter mothers hovering nearby their offspring , eager to ingratiate themselves with the professors from the Mathematics department and desperate to glean anything that may amount to an advantage for their admissions process.

My second observation, sadly, was that in a room full of foppish students, there were only three girls ... and I was one of them - can hardly call myself a 'girl' these days but I was sorely disappointed that our gender wasn't better represented.

After an entertaining introduction from the Admissions Tutor, the parents were asked to leave ( which they did reluctantly ) at which point I must have stuck out like a sore thumb as the average age was probably 17. There followed a lecture by the Director of Studies in Mathematics , who asked for volunteers to solve a variety of mathematical conundrums which he presented on a flip chart.

Emboldened by the fact that I was able to answer them, I decided to ask him a question at the end of the session. His answer to my query as to whether they have or have had any mature students apply to study Mathematics was a rather curt and monosyllabic  " No ". That's me told then.

I suppose there's always a first time for everything but it stuck me that there was a lost opportunity for them to acknowledge that mature students still have something to offer, are less likely to drop out and may actually be capable of a spot of differentiation or algebra here and there. Sadder still was the fact that my quick head count of those present revealed that less than 5% were female. What's going on in schools ? Is Mathematics still a male domain . Surely not ? Come on girls get your calculators out and let's give the men a run for their money.


  1. Don't give up just because he said 'no'! Really admire you for even contemplating going back to studying - best of luck in your endeavours! I loved maths but then didn't even take it at A level as was persuaded I needed physics as I was vaguely thinking about medicine at the time, such poor advice as maths would have been so much more useful, especially as stats is generally so poorly taught when it is part of biology and I ended up as a research scientist.

  2. Me and Sam love maths. I do hope he hasn't put you off following your dreams x