Girls talented in maths spend summer school at St John’s College

Camp aims to encourage more women to consider studying Mathematics at Cambridge

A group of teenage girls from the UK and across the world have discovered what it is like to study Mathematics at Cambridge during a free residential summer camp at St John’s College.

The 16 to 18-year-olds took part in Women in Mathematics, which was held to encourage more women to consider applying to study maths at Cambridge. Featuring lectures and workshops run by Cambridge academics, students and alumni, the participants were from the UK and as far away as Canada and Hong Kong. They were chosen from a strong field of more than 90 applicants.

Attendees in a study group
Top photo: A Women in Mathematics summer school lecture in the Old Divinity School at St John's. Above: One of the study groups. Photo credits: Lloyd Mann.

The event, which took place from 13 to 19 August, was designed to replicate the undergraduate experience to give the attendees a real taste of what it would be like to read Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. As well as lectures in the Old Divinity School, the girls had supervisions in STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper – an assessment for maths applicants to Cambridge) led by current maths students. They also had the opportunity to work on daily number problems and group research projects. 

Dr Jack Smith, Director of Studies in Pure Mathematics at St John’s, said: “We’ve been extremely impressed by the ability and enthusiasm of the students, who have worked really hard throughout the week and thrown themselves into a busy programme of challenging maths sessions.”

Girls doing jigsaw puzzles.
The students enjoy jigsaw puzzles during some down time. Photo credit: Lloyd Mann.

The lectures were given by Cambridge academics and alumni with topics as varied as patterns in decimals, algebra and geometry and using maths to model volcanic eruption plumes from Cameroon to Iceland.

Girls who attended the event reported that they enjoyed the project work, ‘seeing unexpected connections between areas of maths’, learning new approaches and ‘being inspired’ by the mathematicians they met.

The group also enjoyed punting and a visit to the Old Library, which holds material about John Couch Adams, the famous Victorian St John’s mathematician who predicted the existence and position of the planet Neptune solely by the use of mathematical principles. One evening the girls were treated to dinner in the Wordsworth Room, where they were joined by St John’s mathematics alumna Anusha Ashok, who graduated in 2020.

Girls having dinner in the Wordsworth Room
Participants get a taste of undergraduate life during dinner in the Wordsworth Room at St John's in this photo taken by Aarushi, one of the student attendees.

Elsie Linley, St John’s College Schools Liaison and Access Officer, said 78% of attendees who responded said they now feel more confident about applying to Cambridge, with 84% saying they feel more prepared for STEP.  Travel expenses were offered to participants who needed them.

Dr Matthias Dörrzapf, who is Director of Studies in Applied Mathematics and Director of Scholarships and International Programmes at St John’s, said: “The girls have been really amazing, working so hard, so enthusiastic to understand new things and they really seemed to love to be challenged. They have been most impressive and this is certainly an initiative we will want to continue in future years.”

Applications were invited from girls currently studying maths and further maths at GCSE, A-level or equivalent qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate or Scottish Advanced Highers.

Register your interest for the 2024 St John’s College Women in Mathematics Summer School

Find out more about studying Mathematics at St John’s College

Published 29/8/2023

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