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Britain’s knot talent

26 June 2017
Maths project ties up a real-life job

Hazel Browne is a passionate maths student who is exploring complex problems at uni and explaining concepts to high schoolers at work.

Hazel Browne seated at a desk in her workplace

Hazel Browne in the workplace. Photo by Jayne Ion.

“I think maths has a lot to offer everyone. It's a really rewarding subject and even if the maths you learn doesn't apply directly to what you end up doing for a career, the skills you develop are very valuable and applicable in life generally.”

The more abstract maths gets, the more I love it.
Science student, Hazel Browne

Hazel Browne is in her second year of a Bachelor of Science (Advanced Mathematics).

“A lot of people shy away from the challenge of maths, but giving yourself a bit of a challenge is actually not a bad thing.”

Giving herself a bit of a challenge is how Hazel has tied up a job in explaining maths.

“I'm one of four maths content creators at Atomi, making maths videos for high school students in Australia and abroad. We make short, engaging videos addressing different sections of the syllabus.

“It's really satisfying trying to think of the best way to explain something to make it as easy as possible to understand, and it's also gratifying trying to make videos that inspire people to love maths, or at least like it a bit more, or even dislike it a bit less!

“I see the videos through from start to finish: writing the scripts, recording the audio and finally making the animations.”

Hazel was ‘talent spotted’ by George Harper, Atomi’s operations manager, while presenting her research from the Talented Students Program (TSP, reimagined as the Dalyell Scholars program in 2018). She was part of a group project investigating the algebra of knots.

“Our task was to present a semester’s worth of learning in five minutes. I think our presentation stood out because of the mix of clear explanations of the basic ideas, along with audience engagement and entertainment. Our presentation was full of cringe-worthy 'knot' puns, and of course, genuine passion for the algebra of knots,” said Hazel.

George Harper said Atomi was looking for chemistry, physics and mathematics students to join their team of content creators to help with the company’s expansion to cover the British curriculum. He went along to the TSP Showcase event because of a tip-off from a colleague.

Hazel Browne and George Harper seated at a desk at Atomi.

Hazel Browne with Atomi's operations manager, George Harper. Photo by Jayne Ion.  

“I was assured that the TSP Showcase was the perfect place to find uni students that love science.

“We were looking for recent high school graduates with strong knowledge and passion in their subject, fantastic communication skills, and a desire to learn and grow along with our company. These requirements sometimes make hiring a real challenge for us, so an event like TSP Showcase, which draws upon all of them, is a fantastic recruitment opportunity,” said George.

“Atomi makes syllabus specific video courses for high school students – kind of like Netflix for high school, but instead of Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright starring in our content, we need to find really bright young people with great communication skills. TSP provided Hazel with the chance to impress us with her presentation on the algebra of knots, and after contacting her, we found out that Hazel loves maths and blitzed her UK A-Levels. This made her a perfect choice to join the team making useful, clear and engaging videos for our British expansion.

“We have only scratched the surface of Hazel’s knowledge in mathematics, but her deep knowledge acquired from university study and TSP participation have no doubt served her well in being able to clearly explain more fundamental concepts.”

The TSP projects Hazel has worked on are highlights of her time at uni so far, and have enabled her to develop independence and communication skills, which she is transferring to the workplace.

“TSP has encouraged me to think creatively, work as part of a team, and explain topics to others, which are all extremely important parts of my job. It has also enabled me to be exposed to interesting topics I didn’t even know exist, study with incredible academics, and work with other motivated students and friends.

“TSP definitely reinforces the fact that science is not a solitary discipline – it’s always better when doing it with others!”

If studying, taking on the TSP and working in her field weren’t enough, Hazel is also thinking about her future.

Hazel Browne

“I'm only in second-year, so don’t hold me to this, but I’m considering going into pure maths research. I know it's crazy, but the more abstract maths gets, the more I love it. There’s nothing quite like that epiphany feeling you get when you finally figure out a problem after spending days or even weeks thinking about it! However, I also love music, so who knows, maybe I'll find some weird and wonderful way of combining the two.”

The new Sydney Undergraduate Experience could enable just that for our creative scientists, as students are able to move more easily across faculties and into cross-disciplinary areas. A second major in music alongside maths could be an option.

Hazel is currently taking an elective unit in music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and has been playing with the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra this semester.

“I play piano, clarinet, organ and cello, but my favourite musical activity has to be the Conservatorium Whistling Ensemble - AirCon!”

Hazel said it can be a challenge to find the time for all her activities, but she is adamant that you can always make time for something if it’s important enough.

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