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Dr Eugenia Cheng is Scientist-in-Residence and a Senior Lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Honorary Fellow at the University of Sheffield and Honorary Visiting Fellow at City University London.
Photo credit: RoundTurnerPhotography.com
1. What’s your earliest memory of doing mathematics?
I have many very early memories from when I was four or five and I'm not quite sure which is the first. My mother showed me how to draw the graph of x squared and I remember feeling like my brain was contorting out of my skull trying to understand how squaring could turn into a picture. It's the same feeling I have now when I'm getting my head round something in my research.
2. How has mathematics education changed in the time you have been involved in it?
It has become a lot more creative and more about understanding than rote learning, but still not enough in my opinion.
3. Tell me about a time in your career when something totally flabbergasted you.
I was flabbergasted when someone said teaching well is a waste of resources because it doesn't bring in any more income: he said we should just teach adequately and not waste resources by trying to do it any better than that.
4. Do you practice mathematics differently in company?
I don't practice mathematics in company! It's much too scary to reveal myself like that. I only do it in private or with very trusted close friends.
5. Do you think a brilliant maths teacher is born or made?
I think everyone is both born and made. Some things about teaching are hard to learn as an adult though, if you don't already have them, for example empathy and charisma.
6. What’s the most fun a mathematician can have?
I can only speak for myself! I love sitting by myself with a notebook (the old-fashioned kind with pages), a pen and some whisky and just doing research by myself in a bar. I also love drinking and playing classical music with friends. Staying up late is always fun, as is doing any of the things adults tell you not to do when you're a child.
7. Do you have a favourite maths joke?
"Let epsilon be a large negative number…."