Name: Dr Sophie Carr
Job Title: Managing Director / Principal Analyst
Organisation: Bays Consulting
Number of years in current position: 9
- BEng Aeronautical Engineering with French
- MSc Applied Mathematics and Fluid Mechanics
- PhD “Investigating the applicability of Bayesian Belief Networks to the analysis of military intelligence”
- Chartered Mathematician and Chartered Scientist
Briefly describe the organisation you work for.
Bays Consulting is a micro company which specialises in analytics and data science. This is an area of applied mathematics where we help companies answer questions they have been stuck on by finding patterns, trends and distributions in data sets and clearly explaining how this answers the question we’ve been given.
Explain what you do on an average day at work.
There is no such thing as an average day! That’s what makes working in mathematics so exciting. Of course, there are the tasks such as checking emails and answering the telephone but that’s not what my job really entails. Most days I will have to research what techniques I can apply to a problem so I can decide which I should use. Sometimes this is quite quick, other times it can be very time-consuming. I’ll also start to develop answers to problems, perhaps by designing a mathematical model, which often starts out with a graphical sketch of the problem so I can identify variables and possible data sources. The last aspect of an average day is writing - there is always a report to complete. Clearly communicating the results is very important so everyone understands what you’ve done.
What do you like most about your job?
The variety: there is always something new to learn and another problem to try and solve. I’ve had to learn about maths techniques I had never studied at university or school; improve my grammar and also get to grips with accounting so I could run a business. All these very different aspects of my job mean I get to work with people from a wide range of industries so I get to see all of the different areas where maths is applicable.
What stimulated your interest in maths, and when?
My interest in maths actually started with a love of aeroplanes that made me want to study engineering. I like learning about how things work. Even though my dad tried to persuade me to study maths (I was getting much higher grades in maths than physics or chemistry) I was adamant I was going to study aeroplanes. It was definitely the right decision for me as I absolutely adored the whole four years of my course. It was while I was at University I realised I was much better at maths than actually making anything work or move! One of the courses I had to take was fluid mechanics: the maths of how fluids such as air, and water move and I was enthralled. I used to look forward to those lectures more than any others (but gas turbines, thermodynamics, and aerodynamics were a very close second – all practical applications of maths). I think that was when I realised I was probably more of an applied mathematician than an engineer.
What influenced your career choice?
I never expected to work in mathematics, having studied engineering and specialised in fluid mechanics, I applied for jobs with a range of engineering subjects. I was successful in being offered a graduate job working on a variety of applied maths and engineering problems. In fact, it was my first ever post that sparked the idea which I took to my employer as a possible Ph.D. research topic. Amazingly they agreed to support me and I completed my Ph.D. part-time over eight years. During this time, the number of direct engineering projects I worked on decreased and my focus moved to applied mathematics. I never really had a career plan as such, I just kept looking for interesting problems to work on.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
Firstly you need an inquisitive nature and to enjoy solving puzzles. You also need to be tenacious as not every problem gets solved in a day. In fact, you can spend months or even years on a problem and not get a “perfect” solution. That's the biggest difference between working in mathematics and mathematics homework from school – there are no answers at the back of a book to check against! This means you need to be comfortable with getting things wrong and being able to learn from what hasn’t worked to identify techniques that might work. Ultimately maths is a collaborative effort so you need to enjoy working in teams, but also be self-motivated to learn new techniques and listen to other people’s opinions. Lastly, you need to work on your English as much as your favourite area of maths. You’ve got to be able to clearly, accurately and concisely explain what you’ve done and the impact of the results – why do the results matter and what changes because of them?
Any advice you may have for other individuals considering your career path?
It’s perfectly fine not to have a complete career plan mapped out - the road less travelled is just as interesting and fun. When you start work, be realistic: there will be hard days, long hours and frustration. That’s why it’s important to do a job you really enjoy, one you bounce out of bed for. This means you need to keep looking, learning and developing all the time to find the roles and projects that make you go “I really want to be involved in that”. It might take time, but if you keep asking questions and enquiring, you will find your area - but be open-minded about where maths will take you. Lastly, and most importantly, remember that in maths you are going to be wrong far more than you are right, but that is absolutely the best way to learn!
Your future career plans?
I’ve been working on a research project for a couple of years to help identify the provenance of shellfish. I’ve had to learn a lot about marine biology and areas of mathematics I’d previously only touched upon. I’m looking forward to finishing the current research focus and extending this out to other marine species – this will mean learning more maths and hopefully meeting other people with the same research interest.
What benefits of IMA membership have you observed in your career so far?
A great benefit of the IMA membership has been the ability to work towards and gain Chartered Mathematician and Chartered Scientist status. These qualifications really help show people working from other industries about your level of knowledge.