**George Papadopoulos is a PhD student at the University of Sydney in Australia, focusing on Tertiary Mathematics Education whilst also working as a lecturer and tutor within the university. After meeting George last year in Greece, it was clear his interest and passion for science and research was boundless, as he is always searching for the truth and logic behind everything. During this interview, he will describe his current and past educational and research experiences.**
1. You have had quite the extensive post-secondary academic career behind you. Could you briefly describe all your previous and current education?
Key word is “briefly”!
- (2005-2007) Bachelor of Science (Advanced Mathematics) with majors in Mathematics and Physics
- (2008) Honours in Mathematics (both Pure and Applied)
- (2009-2012) Masters in Mathematics (in Hamiltonian Dynamical Systems)
- (2013-present) Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Mathematics (in Tertiary Mathematics Education)
2. What made you decide to pursue the field of mathematics, in particular mathematics education?
I started becoming good at maths when my step-mum gave me extra help in high school. I then just pursued it at the highest level and became interested in it. I started helping people and eventually did a lot of private tutoring since I was 17 years old. However, I was on a path towards a career in physics as I was heavily involved in both learning and teaching physics between my senior year of high school and undergraduate university. I was even involved in some special physics programs that saw me attend special science schools and even participate in the Talented Students Program whereby I did original academic research on star formation at just 18! But eventually in my first year of university the seeds for my maths turning point were planted; I always like to give the following (probably apocryphal as it was a long time ago!) story: in my first year of university, I realized that I was better and enjoyed maths more than physics, but didn’t think it would satisfy me career-wise. I was inspired by my lecturer whom would become my current PhD supervisor; he is my role model (as an educator) to this day. He basically told me two things: that a mathematician is like a Swiss Army knife: they can be useful for anything with so many tools, and as such a mathematician can become anything, not just doing maths but also a physicist, economist or even a biologist as we have in our school. But a biologist will almost never become a mathematician once those skills are lost. So, there is nothing to lose and extremely valuable skills to gain. Whilst I did continue with my physics major, I then decided to pursue a maths major and by the time third year came around I had decided to choose the maths path for Honours and beyond. I started being heavily involved in maths teaching through lecturing and tutoring and stopped teaching high school physics. Though I had a little bit of lecturing experience with high school physics students with my work at physics, I was very honoured when maths offered me a formal lecturer position at the young age of just 21 due to my extensive teaching experience elsewhere. As such, I was one of the youngest maths lecturers around in the school, and many of my students were even older than myself! I was always keen in teaching since I started early in life, and so I naturally became interested in maths education: maths took over physics, and teaching was my main job. I was a legitimate mathematician, working on classical rotational mechanics (due to my intrinsic love for physics) developed by Leonhard Euler nearly three centuries ago (it was very humbling)! But when I started attending more maths education seminars and skipping applied maths seminars (my Master’s supervisor was less than pleased!) then I realised that my next calling was research in maths education, and I already made plans for the thesis topic and supervisor before my Master’s degree even finished. And that’s the story of how it happened!
3. Describe your previous and current research that you have completed. What have been some of the achievements and challenges while conducting this research?
Mostly mentioned previously but briefly:
- In my first year I managed to do some astrophysics research on star formation in our galaxy.
- For my Masters I was developing mathematics that described the rotational energy of the Euler Top.
- Currently for my PhD I’m researching about qualitative and quantitative teaching and learning differences of undergraduate mathematics taught at Summer School (specifically at The University of Sydney) versus regular term (semester)-time.
The biggest achievements are either getting solid results/conclusions or finally publishing the academic research. The biggest challenge is motivation: being persistent when you lose interest in something and reminding yourself how important the work you’re doing is, and also working hard through those road blocks that stumble you along the way. Staying focused. This is mainly a problem for me because I can be lazy at times!
4. At what age would you say that your (general) love of science began?
Six, when I started collecting and reading science magazines.
5. Finally, what advice would you give those looking to study mathematics?
Easier said than done, but in a nutshell: do as much mathematics, as often as possible, as early (an age) as possible, as advanced as possible, for as long as possible! I cannot stress how difficult I found maths compared to anything else, but I was decent at it and stuck with it for the interest in it. To give you some idea when I was studying in senior high or undergrad, I would spend at least 3-4 hours a day on maths (outside of teaching hours), and probably spend maybe 1-2 hours a week on everything else. This is certainly not a good study model, but if you’re curious, I scored pretty uniformly across all my subjects despite the gross skewed study regime towards maths subjects. In other words, even for someone that was decent at and enjoyed maths, it took me at least five times the amount of effort just to do equally well. Food for thought: maths requires repetition and practise. Don’t just do a few exercises. Do EVERY exercise. Use different text books. And then do some external reading for the sake of interest, or watch some maths on YouTube (I recommend Numberphile) to gain some inspiration. Read ahead (I finished an entire university-level text before finishing senior high school just as bedtime reading for pure interest) and the next time you learn it, it will be easier to digest. Finally, take pride in your mathematical work and set things out neatly, concisely and logically. You need to write meticulously and not messily if you want to do maths well!