Keith Seffen, Senior lecturer in engineering

Keith Seffen
Keith Seffen


Job Title:
Senior Lecturer in Engineering, Structures Group, Department of Engineering, and Fellow, Corpus Christi College; University of Cambridge.

Employer: University of Cambridge

Qualifications:  BA (first class, Hons.) converted to MA (1997), followed by PhD (1997), all in Engineering from the University of Cambridge.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS CAREER?
I 'fell' into this job, in the sense that I had just completed a PhD in Engineering, and I was looking to move into an industrial job. However, a postdoctoral opportunity presented itself at the same time, wherein I could stay in my department and carry on research. I took this opportunity and, after a year or so, I really began to appreciate, and to enjoy, the academic lifestyle; it was then that I made a decision to commit to a university career, and I became a lecturer shortly afterwards.

HOW DO YOU USE MATHS IN YOUR JOB?
I am an 'academic' at Cambridge University, a world-class educational and research institution. I lecture on topics related to behaviour of structures - or 'Structural Mechanics'. My research is also linked to structural mechanics, but it deals with a different type of behaviour in which the structure actively changes its shape in a very dramatic way - for adding extra performance, e.g. a car that can change its shape to produce better aerodynamical capabilities, to yield, say, better fuel economy. In my research, mathematics underpins the expression and interpretation of behaviour, which I then confirm through careful experiments and measurement of data. In my teaching, mathematics is indispensable, for it is the language that enables me to describe engineering principles.

WHAT'S THE BEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I am fortunate to work with some very clever people, students and colleagues alike, and that stimulates my interest and enthusiasm for my job, and for mathematics.

WHAT'S THE WORST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
There is increasingly greater pressure to generate income, in order to perform research despite funding routes becoming scarce. I feel this undermines the quality and execution of research (for we seem to be focussed on performance measures rather than the ultimate discovery), and that the U.K.'s international research standing will diminish otherwise.

IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE?
At school, I found I had a 'knack' for doing mathematics but my talent was raw: my teachers were simply inspirational, and they helped to shape my skills and love for the subject. I was encouraged to consider mathematics in an applied context, and that is why I ended up studying engineering. Despite being raised on a council estate in Northern Ireland during the period of the Troubles, I was able to focus on going to Cambridge University primarily because of the support given to me by teachers and family alike: and I have never looked back.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO IN THE FUTURE?
I hope to progress through Academia by becoming a world-class professor in my research area of 'morphing' structures.

Date Published: November 07, 2010

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