Nira Chamberlain, Modelling consultant

My name is Nira Chamberlain CMath MIMA CSci; I am a Senior Modelling Consultant working for the LSC Group, an Integrated Logistics Support consultancy. I joined LSC Group’s Operational Research (OR) Team in October 2002. The OR team consists of mathematical, cost and simulation modellers with a wide-ranging experience of techniques and tools. We are specialists in delivering bespoke modelling tools to our customers. The objective of LSC Group’s OR Team is to evaluate, develop and interrogate Integrated Logistical Support strategies by means of modelling. In other words, we determine how a strategy will work, when a strategy will work and if the strategy will work. This is known as a ‘Proof of Concept’ and provides strong evidence that the products and services delivered by the supplier will be better, faster and cheaper.

A typical day may be

  • Client meetings
  • Turning the client’s ideas, vision and experience into a mathematical model
  • Scoping the project and building the model
  • Testing, evaluation and feedback workshops with subject matter experts
  • Delivering the model report and recommendations to the client.

An example this year of an atypical day would be when I was an invited lecturer on the MSc course Defence Simulation and Modelling at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham. I delivered a lecture on ‘Simulation Modelling: The Evaluation of Ideas’. Another example this year of an atypical day was when I was one of the speakers at the Institute of Mathematics and its Application Second Younger Members’ Conference at the London Mathematical Society. My talk was ‘Simulation: The Use of Mathematics to Challenge Ideas’.

So how did I get to work for LSC Group? After obtaining my mathematics degree at Coventry Polytechnic and MSc at Loughborough University, I spent the next ten years working for a variety of companies in the automotive, aerospace, and energy industries. The common theme of work for all my employers was to write mathematical simulations to solve complex engineering problems. The highlights of my career before joining LSC Group were living and working in France; I now speak French fluently. Also, living and working in the Netherlands, where I worked for SKF Engineering and Research Centre as a consultant for six weeks and received a letter of commendation from the Managing Director for the work that I did there.

In my spare time, I am studying part-time for a PhD in “Small World Network Theory” at Portsmouth University. Also on occasions, I teach mathematics at a Saturday school to 10 year olds.

I am proud to be a mathematician and one day I had an unexpected opportunity to show how proud I really am. Whilst driving home late one evening, I had the radio on. I was listening to a station that broadcasts to the whole of the West Midlands. This was a late night talk show. On this radio programme there was a presenter and a co-presenter. To my alarm, this is what I heard:

Co-Presenter : One of the topics tonight is maths. There was a maths teacher at a conference recently who stated that mathematics should not be compulsory for fourteen year olds.

Presenter : That is right! Maths is BORING!

The Presenter really emphasized the ring of boring by holding the syllable for five seconds. I was not very happy when I heard this. When I arrived home, fifteen minutes later, I asked my wife for the radio station's phone number and rang up. To my surprise, after introducing myself as a professional mathematician, I went straight on air!

Presenter : On line one, we have Nira. Nira how can we help you?

I paused for a moment, and then I started, speaking a bit nervously I said:

Nira : The reason why I have phoned is because of what you have been saying about mathematics. I disagree with you. Mathematics should be compulsory for 14 year olds. At that age, as a country, we are mathematically behind countries like France, Germany, Japan and India. I think we should be looking at ways of strengthening mathematics, not weakening it. Mathematics is a beautiful and powerful subject.

Presenter : Wow, wow, wow Nira! What are you going on about? Mathematics is a beautiful and powerful subject? Come on Nira! Everybody knows that mathematics is BORING!

The presenter again emphasized the ring of boring. I considered this as a verbal slap in the face. From this point on I lost all my nervousness. I replied:

Nira : Mathematics IS the poetry of logical ideas!

For a moment there was a stunned silence. Then, the presenter countered:

Presenter : Okay, but Nira tell me why a fourteen year old needs mathematics?

Nira : Doing mathematics you acquire the skills of speed, accuracy and understanding. You also acquire skills such as strategy and organisation for everyday use. If you are talking about not making mathematics compulsory for fourteen years you might as well not make English compulsory as well!

Presenter : No, no, no Nira! We need English! We don't need maths!

Nira : Oh yeah, so tell me something. How do you make a cup of tea?

There was a pause, and then the presenter avoided the question by saying:

Presenter : But Nira why do we need mathematics?

Nira : Mathematics is one of the few scientific subjects, that can be described as an art form. Studying mathematics is almost like playing a sport. It is one of the few subjects that teaches geography to geographers, biology to biologists, engineering to engineers, economics to economist, etc.

Presenter : Okay, okay Nira, I give you that! Mathematics is not boring; it is the teachers that make it boring! But answer me this, why does a fourteen year old need mathematics?

Nira : Lets say, you're driving a car and all of a sudden you see a ball roll out in front of you followed by a child …

Presenter : Wow,wow,wow Nira! I have to stop you there! I just have to stop you there! I agree that you use mathematics in speed, braking distances and angles! But, there is no way you take out a calculator when you about to run over a child in your car!

Nira : No you don’t use a calculator! But teaching a fourteen year old child mathematics, at that age, enhances their natural mathematical abilities!!

Stunned silence. Then I heard the co-presenter whisper to the presenter “He’s highly educated”. A bit of a pause, then the Presenter spoke to me in a more calmer and slower manner.

Presenter : Nira, what do you do?

Nira : I am a Chartered Mathematician.

Presenter : Educated to what level?

Nira : Masters.

Presenter : And what do you in your job?

Nira : I write mathematical simulation models that solve complex engineering problems

Presenter : Oh! Well Nira, thank you for phoning this radio station this evening.

The presenter paused, then continued very slowly.

Presenter : I really am sorry, but I still disagree with you. I can see why mathematics is relevant to somebody like you though. But hey, at least your views have been broadcast right across the West Midlands.

Then to my surprise the presenter said this:

Presenter : Actually Nira! Congratulations! You are the first person I have ever spoken to, who has made mathematics sound sexy! Goodbye.