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Interview with Martin Edwards

Caroline interviews Martin Edwards, a 3rd year PhD student.

What did you do before you came to do MOAC?

Before MOAC I did a Mathematics degree here at Warwick.

Do you think that your undergraduate programme was good preparation for MOAC?

This gave me a good bunch of skills but I’ve learnt a great deal more since being on MOAC, both from sharing my mathematical knowledge and in me learning from the others’ disciplines. The skills I’ve taken on board that I wasn’t prepared in I’ve had to take on board and that has been really good as well.

So how have you found that from going from one discipline to a multi-disciplinary subject?

I’ve enjoyed it, but I take an interest in lots of things so during my undergraduate I wouldn’t just pay attention to Maths but also my friend’s subjects, whatever they were. So to come into an area now where people have been brought up and trained in many different areas, to learn what their views on certain things are and why; to challenge theirs and challenge my own – I have always enjoyed such things. There is lots of new stuff to learn but it’s actually been fun and you feel like you make a lot of progress very quickly. In your own discipline you are quite deep into it and what you learn is complex and can feel like it takes a long time. Its very incremental, but getting involved in something new and exciting you feel like you are coming on in leaps and bounds. You spend a lot of time doing it, but it is good fun.

Why did you choose MOAC?

I had an offer for a Maths PhD also, and when comparing the two the social element of MOAC was the winning factor. I work with a bunch of people, all bright people from different backgrounds. I enjoy teaching and learning from them, and asking ‘why do you think this?’, because coming from one discipline you are trained in a certain way so its great to start questioning ‘so why are you using this way instead of that?’ and it also gives you challenges to apply the stuff you’ve learnt. I found it more exciting than the other PhD. You push boundaries further. The first year on the MSc was really good for mixing with a range of people – staff and students – on both a professional and social level, learning about what is cutting edge, and making a much more educated choice of PhD topic. I can attack problems I feel amply qualified to solve, whereas I know of people from other disciplines who find equal challenges difficult to solve, so its been exciting to have a shot at those kinds of problems. I feel I’ve been able to move a lot of work on in my workgroup that wouldn’t have moved on without me being there.

What did/do you enjoy about the programme?

The people and the work are both enjoyable. The ‘management’ is a fairly hands on one. I’m lucky that I can chat to the course director and, because the course is not set in stone, if you can suggest a way to do things better that are easy enough to implement then you just put it forward, and they are implemented. If there is a reason not to there is always an explanation. The programme is more organic than most. I’m lucky my PhD project involves working with some great people with skills complementary to my own – that has allowed us to move forward a long way. The problems are fun and they are vibrant areas to work in.

Have you got an idea what you want to do next?

I’m currently in the final year of my PhD, following that I am hoping to continue to work in scientific research. Before doing the PhD I always thought I would see how these years would go and then decide from there, as I didn’t know if I would find 3 years too much and too long, or very lonely, or feel like I was getting nowhere with my work. Or feel excited and realise there is so much more out there to learn and to enthuse. I feel lucky that I am still enjoying it. I am looking out for positions. There are some at other academic institutes, both within the UK and worldwide. I’m fortunate the people I work with are top quality, and know these people at other institutes, so they will refer you or pass on positions to you. There is always the challenge in science of trying to get money for your research so we are also looking at trying to get further funds for the work I am doing here. So I am looking at doing similar things and using the skills I’ve got to solve problems where I fit in nicely to the situation. The skills set you receive through MOAC helps you tackle problems and approach a wide variety of things. There are a broad range of areas I am able to apply myself to in numerous exciting areas, but at the same time I’ve got to decide what to specialise in and where. It is both a problem and a blessing!

[PHOTO of Martin Edwards]