Careers - Rachel Thomas
I studied Physics, Archaeology, Ancient History and Mathematics at UWA from 1992 to 1994. Although the first three subjects were interesting and somewhat more glamorous than mathematics, I discovered that I actually found the doing of mathematics far more enjoyable. This lead to me doing Honours in Pure Mathematics in 1995 and then a Masters in Pure mathematics from 1996 to 1999. While doing my masters I was able to give a paper at an international conference in St Andrews, Scotland partly funded by the university.
When I graduated with a maths degree there were no jobs out there that had the word mathematician in the title. But when I started job-hunting I realised just how broad the career range was that required maths and the other skills such as communication, conceptual, analytical and problem solving skills that you learn from a maths degree. I used mathematics a lot in my first job as an information analyst for Data Analysis Australia. My work there involved consulting with clients, assessing the information resources available, visualising their problem in mathematical context and then using the available information to provide useful answers to the problem.
Now I work at Cambridge University in the UK. I work on a number of projects under the umbrella of the Millennium Mathematics Project. I split my time between being a computer officer for all the projects and being an assistant editor of the online magazine Plus. As a computer officer I have to do systems administration, web programming and development of applications for online collaborative authoring and intelligent searching on the internet. Plus is an online magazine in the style of New Scientist with articles about interesting applications of mathematics.
One of my favourite articles is about the fractal dimensions of Jackson Pollack's paintings. As an assistant editor I write and edit articles for the magazine, assist in publishing the material online and answer the many entertaining emails we receive, from questions about the nature of mathematics to requests for publications of readers' proofs of Fermat's Last Theorem.
I really enjoy both my jobs, as they both involve communicating mathematics to the broader community in a way that is creative and innovative.