PiFORUM2020 – our sitrep

From the 7th to the 11th of September 2020 the Piscopia Initiative hosted PiFORUM2020, a virtual conference to encourage women and non-binary students across the UK in applying for PhD positions in mathematics and related subjects. Not only did the event feature an application bootcamp to get participants application-ready, but they also had the chance to learn about different areas of maths from female researchers and take part in mock interviews. This is how it went down!

After a warm welcome by the Piscopia Initiative it was a pleasure to introduce Zoe Wyatt, a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh on the verge of starting her postdoc at the University of Cambridge. She shared some honest insights on what a PhD can look like, with all its ups and downs. Next up was Sue Sierra, a reader at the University of Edinburgh, who answered some burning questions on various aspects of the PhD, from application technicalities to mental health, during her talk. At the end of the session our participants were shuffled into break out rooms for speed friending in order to foster a network of female and non-binary students across the UK.

“I’ve had the best week participating in #PiFORUM2020 hosted by @_Piscopia!! Such a privilege to have met so many inspiring female & non-binary mathematicians at all stages of their academic journeys! Couldn’t feel more prepared for the PhD applications that are ahead of me!

Participant PiFORUM 2020

Our second day was mostly dedicated to the application process and the PhD interview with Q&A sessions from Katy Cameron (University of Edinburgh) and Iain Gordon (Head of School of Mathematics, University of Edinburgh). They covered a variety of topics, such as funding opportunities and initial supervisor contacts and answered countless questions from our participants. The session ended with a talk by Michael Rovatsos (Director of the Bayes Center, University of Edinburgh), who presented career opportunities outside of academia for maths PhDs by showcasing some of the great startups based in the Bayes Center.

“PiFORUM was an amazing experience! I feel equipped to tackle the PhD application process, met some wonderful people and had fun learning maths. It was a week full of encouragement.

Participant PiFORUM 2020

The application bootcamp continued on Wednesday with an intensive CV workshop. We got expert advice on this topic from Matt Vickers, a career consultant at the University of Edinburgh, who was keen to answer all the questions that came to mind. The participants then had the opportunity to discuss their own CVs in breakout rooms. The session concluded with a short introduction of the Piscopia Society – a newly established network to expand the reach of the Piscopia Initiative. 

My favourite part of PiFORUM was hearing about everyone’s path to a PhD, it’s been so cool learning how different experiences can be. The CV sharing and workshop is another favourite part, it completely altered my view of what a CV is and what it should look like.

Participant PiFORUM 2020

On Thursday we invited four leading female mathematicians (all currently based in Scotland!) to present their research showcasing the variety of mathematics: Michela Ottobre (Heriot-Watt University) gave us a primer on probability and her view on the importance of diversity for mathematical research. Ruth King (University of Edinburgh) talked not only about statistics, but shared honest insights into her personal academic journey. Sira Gratz (University of Glasgow) showed us the beauty of “pure” mathematics using the example of Conway-Coxeter friezes. Jemima Tabeart (University of Edinburgh) talked about her research in numerical linear algebra and data assimilation. These fascinating talks sparked curiosity in all of us and gave a great overview over all that maths can be.

“It’s not often that I find myself mouthing “Wow, that’s beautiful,” at my computer screen, but it happened today during the #PiFORUM2020 talk on Conway-Coxeter friezes. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of learning about new aspects of maths!

Participant PiFORUM 2020

On Friday participants had the opportunity to sign up for individual mock PhD interviews, which we hosted together with other current PhD students from University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University. The goal for these sessions was to put the participants in a situation where they get to present themselves in an academic environment and to provide more personalised feedback. 

Never expected to say this, but I really enjoyed my mock PhD interview!! Hopefully it’ll be the same when it comes to the real thing!

Participant PiFORUM 2020

And.. that’s a wrap! The feedback we received has been overwhelmingly positive and we are proud to help foster a more diverse research environment in mathematics across the whole of the UK! We want to thank all our speakers, helpers, supporters along the way, and our sponsors!

“It has been a very rewarding experience and definitely a confidence boost I didn’t even know I needed. I have been gifted with an amazing support group of people who understand the struggles I believed were mine alone.

Participant PiFORUM 2020

I had such a wonderful time at PiFORUM2020! My confidence has gone up by about a billion times. I can’t wait to start applying for PhDs because I know I’ll be able to make an application that reflects how awesome I am. It’s been so inspiring meeting others who are so similar yet different to me. I feel so well-equipped to pursue my dreams now

Participant PiFORUM 2020