Dr Fordyce Davidson

Reader of Mathematics, Division of Mathematics, University of Dundee

What type of projects to you offer?

The university has supervised Nuffield Research Placements for many years. Projects in my group, the Division of Mathematics, often concern the use of mathematical tools to better understand a range of biological processes. We are particularly interested in how individual components within a system, such as cells, work together to produce large-scale behaviour. One example of this area of study is trying to better understand how microbes such as bacteria form communities and how these communities interact with other species and their surroundings.

What motivates you to provide placements?

I have been involved in outreach activities and the supervision of summer projects for many years. I have always enjoyed working with highly motivated students who take on a task simply because they find it interesting. I hope that by being involved with the Nuffield Research Placements scheme I am helping to introduce a new generation of mathematicians to the fascinating range of possible applications which the subject offers.

What do you feel are the main benefits to both your organisation and to the students taking part in the scheme?

As an organisation, we are improving our direct links with the local community: potentially boosting our recruitment of highly skilled and motivated students.  The students are gaining invaluable exposure to:

  • Cutting edge research
  • A different culture from school in a professional working environment
  • A ‘taster’ of an academic discipline before they make their UCAS choices

Furthermore, a research placement can provide very gifted students with the opportunity to really develop and apply their independence and creativity, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

What personal skills would you say members of your team gained from supervising a Nuffield student?

Of course one always learns something new, with every student and at every level. The greatest difference is the level of background - it is, therefore, a challenge to define a project that is achievable yet interesting and relevant to the student.