Dr Aditi Kar, Department of Mathematics, recently completed a British Science Association Media Fellowship. We caught up with Aditi to discover more about the Fellowship, which included a placement with the i newspaper, and reflect on her experiences.
1. Could you tell us about yourself and your role within the Department of Mathematics?
I am formally Senior Lecturer in Pure Mathematics at the Department of Mathematics. Pure Mathematics? This is a rather fortunate or unfortunate title and refers to my brand of mathematics being theoretical: I focus on developing mathematical theory for its own sake, in anticipation of its necessity to sciences in the long run.
I joined Royal Holloway three years ago and was promoted to Senior Lecturer at the end of the second year of my tenure. My research lies in a branch of Pure Mathematics called Geometric Group Theory.
2. We understand that you were awarded a 2019 media fellowship by the British Science Association and that you recently completed a placement with the i newspaper. Could you tell us a bit about the British Science Association Media Fellowship and your experiences with your placement?
The British Science Association was formed in 1831 with the mission to bring science to all sections of the population and, increase the number of people actively engaged in scientific pursuits. For the past 30 years or so, they have offered a number of media fellowships annually: these are competitive and applications are jointly supported by individual institutions and the BSA. The media fellowship allows a practising scientist to spend 2-6 weeks over the summer with a UK media outlet.
I was placed with the i newspaper, which was started in London in 2015 out of the ashes of the Independent. The latter now only exists in digital form. My five weeks with the news desk were an exciting roller coaster ride involving the daily chase for stories, interviews and reporting. I got a first hand insight into how the media works, specially how an organisation like i news aims to cover science stories, the workings of EurekAlert and news embargoes, and what newspapers are looking for in a news story.
I covered stories on glow in the dark sharks, mathematics podcasts, artificial intelligence, and Australopithecus discoveries. Some days, I ventured into main stream reporting and covered sport or local news or university issues. These five weeks were certainly some of the most exciting in my entire working life.
3. What was your favourite article that you wrote for the i newspaper?
I loved writing about the discovery of the skull of one of our hominid ancestors. Scientists working in Afar, Ethiopia discovered a near complete skull of a member of the species Australopithecus anamensis – an ancestor of the all-too famous Lucy, whose remains were found close to the current archaeological site in 1974. It is rare to find such old and complete specimens and allowed the scientists to digitally reconstruct the face of one of our earliest ancestors.
I enjoyed doing a feature on the use of machine learning to decipher Brunel’s cryptic handwriting: this included an interview with the curator of a thought-provoking exhibition on the history of writing at the British Library. I had press tickets to visit the exhibition. To follow the evolution of communication and writing from the beginnings of time was an altogether moving experience.
4. Your media fellowship ended on 1 October 2019 at the Leadership Day celebrations. Could you tell us about the day?
The Leadership Day brought all the 2019 media fellows together: we could share our individual experiences, the good and the bad, the successes and the frustrations of our days with the media.
5. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway and within the Department of Mathematics?
I love the college campus and relish the ability to disappear for a walk in the College woods in between lectures and meetings. On quiet days, I have had the rare encounter with deer!
6. Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
When I’m not doing Mathematics, I love to sing opera or go for long walks in the country with my Labrador Retriever. In the summer of 2018, I had the unique opportunity to perform as the female protagonist in an opera production in Italy. What a thrilling and challenging fortnight that was!