Careers - Nick Gill
I completed a four year honours degree in 1998. My honours thesis was in the area of finite geometry, part of algebra, which in turn is part of pure mathematics. I also studied applied mathematics as a second major for my degree.
My studies were greatly enjoyable, primarily as an exposure to some very beautiful ideas and theories. It was my love for the 'beautiful' side of mathematics that led me to focus on pure maths, although I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder and many parts of applied maths are beautiful also. I have never studied with a view to a career as I have never known what I have wanted to end up doing - But I have never regretted my decision to study what I love.
After finishing in Nov 1998, I spent six months in Perth working part time in the maths department and spending the rest of my time doing the student activism that I never had enough time for when studying!
At the end of this time I had had enough of Perth and wanted to see some more of Australia. So I spent twelve months living in an aboriginal community on the edge of the Gibson desert, working as a station hand. This involved building fences, mustering and shearing sheep as well as participating in traditional activities like goanna hunting. A welcome and necessary change from studies! At the end of the twelve months, I got a job with the Institute for Child Health Research (ICHR) which involved travelling around various aboriginal communities in Western Australia interviewing people about their children's health. There wasn't much maths involved in this but I really enjoyed it as it fed my need to engage in issues of social justice and gave me an opportunity to contribute in a small way to meeting the needs of aboriginal people who had given me so much. I did this for about nine months.
During this time I also sent off applications for further mathematics study. I ended up being accepted into Cambridge university to do a PhD. This is what I am doing now (I started yesterday, 1 October 2001)! In the six months I had to spare between finishing with the ICHR and starting at Cambridge, I worked in a community for street homeless people in London, the Simon Community. This involved full-time live-in volunteer work with people either currently living on the streets or formerly living on the streets. This was very rewarding, if difficult, work from which I learnt a great deal.
Since leaving university I have taken the view that my academic career has the capacity to feed certain parts of my human person but not all parts. This is why I have sought to do lots of different things outside of mathematics - to build my social skills in different environments and to challenge myself in ways that mathematics cannot. However I have returned now to mathematics because I find studying maths very rewarding and because it challenges me intellectually more than anything else I have ever done. Whether I will finish the PhD or not, I don't know, but the experiment, I'm sure, will be worth it.