Charles Walkden

Senior Lecturer in Pure Mathematics and Director of Postgraduate Studies

Charles Walkden

At some point a PhD student starts having their own insights into their research problem, which are unforeseen by the supervisor.  This moment – when the relationship changes to two equals working on a research problem -  is probably one of the highlights of being an academic.

 

 

What does this position involve?

In my role as Director of Postgraduate Studies, I oversee all of the PhD and MSc programmes in the School.  Whilst each of our five MSc programmes has its own course director and each research group has its own PhD programme director, I'm responsible for ensuring that all of the postgraduate students in the School progress through their studies as smoothly as possible. 

This includes things like dealing with mitigating circumstances or personal difficulties, chairing MSc exam boards, ensuring that PhD students are on course for submitting their theses on time, and liaising between the School, the Faculty and the University.

How do you make sure that courses are up-to-date and relevant? What have you had to update this year?

The MSc programmes and the lecture courses taught within the programmes are regularly reviewed to make sure that they remain relevant.

They cover areas of mathematics that are of value to students, whether they go on to further study or go on to work in industry. We've recently introduced a new MSc in Applied Mathematics, with pathways in Numerical Analysis and in Industrial Modelling, to reflect the many connections between current research performed in the School and industry practitioners.

The PhD programme, being focussed on producing original research, by its very nature has to be up-to-date and relevant. The academics and researchers in the School are internationally-leading experts and offer supervision in research projects of current interest, both within academia and with industry.

What kind of balance do you strike between teaching facts and developing skills?

Someone with a postgraduate degree in mathematics needs to be able to apply mathematics in a wide range of contexts, and both the MSc programmes and PhD programmes require students to develop their skills as practising mathematicians.

In the first part of the MSc programmes, students normally take a number of taught lecture courses, perhaps together with some small research project or essay. In the second half of the MSc programmes, students write a dissertation, usually on a topic of current research interest. This allows students to develop their skills as independent learners and mathematicians.

The main focus of the PhD is for a student to develop their own research skills. In addition, to ensure that PhD students have the widest possible education, we require students to take a number of graduate-level courses. Many of these are provided by MAGIC - a consortium of mathematics departments around the UK, led by Manchester, who offer advanced graduate-level courses taught by access-grid video conferencing.

What are the course highlights for you?

Supervising PhD students is hugely rewarding. In most cases, at the beginning of the programme, the relationship between a PhD student and their supervisor is one of student-master. However, at some point the student will often start having their own insights into their research problem which are unforeseen by the supervisor. This moment when the relationship changes to two equals working on a research problem - is probably one of the highlights of being an academic.

The moment when a PhD student passes their viva is also very special. For many students, studying for a PhD is one of the hardest things they will do. For those who have gone straight from their first degree or Masters to the PhD, it is also often the culmination of over 20 years of full-time education.

Being involved with MSc students is equally rewarding. Whilst many MSc students come straight from their first degrees, others may have worked for a number of years or may be studying in the UK for the first time. Studying for a Masters-level qualification is not easy and involves a substantial commitment, and it's always good to see so many students from such diverse backgrounds achieve this.

Why do graduates from your course stand out in the job market?

A postgraduate qualification from Manchester is highly regarded by employers.  All graduate students develop their research skills and ability to work independently on technically demanding material.  Even if a student doesn't go into a career in exactly the same area as in their MSc or PhD, these skills are highly valued by employers. 

Many Manchester PhD students have gone on to have successful careers as academics, both in the UK and internationally. Many other PhD students have gone on to careers in mathematics research within industry, or have used the skills they developed whilst studying to work in teaching and mathematics outreach, banking and finance or computer science.

What kind of industry relations do you have? How do students benefit from them?

Many of our PhD students are sponsored by industrial partners via CASE awards.  We currently have students working on research projects with companies as diverse as Thales Underwater Systems, the National Grid, and Cadbury's.  During their studies, some of PhD students have had internships with SkySports, IBM, Airbus, and many other companies. 

Many of our academics have strong research links with industrial, commercial and research partners, including the NAG Fortran Library, the defence contractor Qinetiq, and landmine clearance charities. Students often work on research projects inspired by these connections.  Some areas of pure mathematics have surprising interdisciplinary applications. For example, some of the academics working in Tropical Geometry have close connections with colleagues in the School of Computer Science working on parallel processing.

What distinguishes this course from similar ones in other institutions?

The School of Mathematics at Manchester is one of the largest in the country, with academics and research students working in a very wide range of areas – from abstract pure mathematics, applied mathematics including numerical analysis and computational fluids, statistics, probability and financial mathematics.  This allows us to supervise PhD students and run MSc programmes in a very wide range of areas.  

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