LMS Success Stories

Tom explains his career to date for the London Mathematical Society (LMS) as part of the ‘success stories’ initiative. You can read the original post on the LMS website here.

Early Career Teaching and Outreach Fellow in Mathematics
St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford

As quite possibly the only person at the University of Oxford whose job description includes ‘producing weekly YouTube videos’ it would be fair to say my career path to date has been rather unconventional…

After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics, a PhD felt like the natural next step on what I thought would be a ‘normal’ career in academia. And so it proved to be. That is, until I discovered Science Communication.

During the third year of my PhD, I took 2 months out to complete an internship with the Naked Scientists – an award-winning production company producing podcasts and radio internationally, including for the BBC. Despite not actually listening to radio or podcasts myself (more on that later), I absolutely loved it! Researching breaking science news stories each week, I was not only helping the public to understand what was happening in the world of science, but I was learning myself.

After completing my PhD a year later, I started working as a full-time science communicator – and everything was fantastic. However, the more I thought about my role as a communicator with a background in mathematics, the more I realised that video was in fact the best way to tell my story. And so ‘Tom Rocks Maths’ was born. Now at over 75,000 subscribers and more than 4 million views on YouTube, the channel has continued to go from strength to strength over the past 4 years. But, it wasn’t always so simple…

During the early days, videos were produced during evenings and weekends as I was still working full-time with the BBC. This was fine for the first few months, but gradually I began to realise that if I was really going to succeed, I needed to give myself more time to commit to the project. And this is where academia once again came calling.

Taking up a ‘part-time’ role as a term-time lecturer at St Hugh’s College at the University of Oxford, left me with 28 weeks of the year to focus on Tom Rocks Maths. However, the sacrifice came in the form of a greatly reduced salary. Fortunately, I was able to supplement this original position with further teaching at St Edmund Hall, which ultimately led me to my job today.

My new role as an Early-Career Teaching and Outreach Fellow in Mathematics began in October 2020 and will run for 3 years. The position is based on the more common teaching and research position, but with research activities replaced with outreach. This takes the form of school visits, talks at events and conferences, and of course weekly YouTube videos.

When starting out in science communication, I didn’t necessarily have an end goal in mind – I simply enjoyed what I was doing. By following my passion and taking some (calculated) risks along the way, I’ve ended up with what can only be described as my dream job. Teaching mathematics not only to university students, but to many thousands more online.

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