About CSci

  • Christopher Stone
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Christopher Stone
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
East Midlands
Maths lecturer and architect
Works For: 
University of Derby and self employed
BSc & MSc (Architecture) (UCL) BA (Open University) MMath (Open University)
Pet Hates: 
The dominance of the narrative in the media
Burning Ambition: 
To do something clever
I’d like to exist in four dimensions and get a glimpse of what it’s like. I’d like to go into a phone booth or click my fingers and go into four dimensions and then be able to switch between the two. There are a lot of problems in geometry because we’re limited to three dimensions which I then might be able to solve. As an architect, you’re thinking in three dimensions but you’re putting it all down in two dimensions
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
No clear idea but probably part of Dan Dare’s crew
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
Working as an architect means that quite regularly you have to deal with the effects of an economic recession. The building industry is usually the first to be affected and the last to recover. In the recession of the 80s the partnership I had co-founded had to be wound up. I toyed with the idea of studying computing so I could be ready for the new world of CAD and I studied an OU Foundation Course in mathematics as a warm up exercise for this. By the time of the next recession in the 90s I had realised that knowledge of computing was not necessary for using CAD and that working as an architect, although enjoyable and responsible, required craft skills rather than logical processes. I liked the idea of taking on something that exercised the mind so I decided to resurrect my maths studies with a view to becoming a lecturer. Studies were enjoyable and became compulsive
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
It’s constantly being challenged – one minute I know where I am, and the next moment I don’t. I love challenging questions. The adult returners I teach are not scared to ask you awkward questions
What would you change? 
I want to be paid about three times as much. Also I wish I had more time – if you had more time to think about something you’d be able to do it better
What qualifications did you take at school? 
O’Levels: English, maths, physics, chemistry, mechanics and technical drawing. A'Levels: pure maths, physics, art, applied maths and engineering drawing
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
Architecture. I chose this because I enjoyed art as well as maths and physics. The school was a technical school and strongly promoted engineering as a career. Most students followed this directive. The exceptions were the very bright who took up pure science, the imaginative who took up design, the unambitious who went into banking or the eccentric who went on to study mathematics. I later took a mathematics degree out of interest and when I realized that it was achievable
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
Architect. (There is always the possibility of picking up work!) If I say I am a maths teacher people start looking anxious!
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
I am hoping my research is. I am looking to see if I can use linear fractional transformations to generate building plans. LTRs work on the complex plane and have been used to generate fractal patterns and map the surface of the brain
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
If a “mathematics of building plans” can be found then layouts can more easily be optimized against certain criteria and perhaps more interesting configurations found
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
As an architect, there’s nothing better than going around a finished project and seeing how pleased people are. One minute the place is looking an absolute tip, but when it’s finished people can see it as you’ve seen it and everyone’s pleased. In teaching, it’s when you’re with a student and the penny drops. Suddenly they get it and say “I know what you’re talking about now.”
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I started by studying architecture at school – which was considered a science. Most people went into engineering, some into pure science, but if you had a bit of imagination you went into architecture and design. Very few people went into mathematics – it was deemed for the very clever only. Architecture was considered more like a social science – we were going to use it to solve social problems. Every so often there’s a recession and there’s no work as an architect. A lot of people try to rebrand/reinvent themselves when there’s only a certain amount of work around. So I decided to study mathematics. It took me two recessions. I started in the 80s by doing one course, and then in the 90s I finished it off. I thought I’d try to apply for a job in a data gathering center. But as a material person, maths is not the sort of thing that mature students succeed in….you need to be young to think about a career. So I went into teaching. I split myself between the two careers…architecture and maths teaching
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
As a practicing architect you use basic maths every day, but nothing profound. As a teacher you use a lot of imagination, which architects are used to using. There is an overlap of function. The more maths you understand the more you can use in the design of buildings, but not in a profound way. I’m trying to do some research on the links between the two. For example, I’m looking at complex mathematics and the mathematics of imaginary numbers (fractal patterns, interesting imaginative shapes). I’m interested in using that to design building plans. I’m tinkering with the idea and have made proposals to a conference. I’ve presented an article in the Nexus Network journal, which looks at the links between mathematics and architecture and I had a poster at a Maths conference (European Consortium for Industrial Mathematics). It’s funny because once you’re out on a limb yourself, the ideas could be useful but you never really know for sure
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
Both architecture and teaching are under threat. With teaching, I wonder if at some stage in the future they’ll say “do you remember when people had individual teachers?” Everything may move to computers. With architecture, all you have to do is look at all the programmes on telly about people having a go designing something themselves…that’s becoming more and more common. You could come back in 500 years and see that the word architect doesn’t mean much anymore. And teaching could be very different too. But you never know – perhaps people will reject the computer and demand a real person
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
About teaching, the most surprising thing is when it’s so clear in my mind, but not in my students’. That constantly surprises me. It becomes a challenge. I’ve explained something all the ways I can but it still doesn’t sink in. In architecture, the strange thing is how we’re dominated by words. People like things explained in English. People, when confronted with a drawing, don’t always understand it. They say that looks good, but they’re commenting on its superficial qualities. Its only when things start to get built that they question it. They don’t see drawings as a proper means of communication. In construction planning, people tend to want descriptions in words. You’re putting everything in a drawing into words for them…and you think, “What’s the point? It’s all there in the drawing.” They see the narrative as a higher form of communication.
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Successfully managing a career in both architecture and teaching, and being able to merge the two
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
I think they’re a bit bewildered. Particularly kids now might think of getting one job after another, but not doing two jobs at once. The wife finds it perplexing…she’s a manager in a healthcare programme which is very well paid. She finds it strange that there’s less money in what I do. At my level I do small projects…everyone thinks they can design a house so that lowers the pay. You can wait a lifetime for that big project to come along
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
Travelling, gardening, family… I’ve taken up lots up lots of things and abandoned them (the saxophone, tai chi…). I see people with hobbies, and I think, “Why are you spending your time doing this?” I work with dentists and accountants on either side of me. The accountants always look like they want to finish early, the dentists look more cheerful but then they only work four days a week. I think I’m quite lucky have the jobs I do
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
It was offered to me on a plate by the IMA. I felt quite pleased with it because architecture is seen as flowery and artistic but you can be a scientist as well
What is the value of professional bodies? 
It gives you reassurance. People know you’re properly qualified. You’re not someone that merely says you can do something, you can demonstrate that you can. You need professionalism as an architect. I have to have insurance against making mistakes, I have to do regular CPD etc
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
There are certain things you have to do. The activities that I like are the ones that I can generate myself. I do a lot of work with government agency called Aim Higher to help raise the aspirations of school children who have the ability to succeed but not the background. They do events at the University and we run several Maths event. We ask students if they realize the potential of what they can do with Math. One year we had them measuring the height of an above reach by using a mirror. Another year, we looked at how by changing the pitch of a roof you can work out two processes for optimizing the floor area (reduce surface area but increase floor area)
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
With mathematics, the fear is you’re not going to be good enough. I teach returners and they come in and they want to do business or forensics. When you say “Why not maths?” they say “No, too difficult”. But Maths is a vocational job….it’s very do-able once you’ve grasped the techniques. I’d advise them to be a bit bold. Lots of universities are trying to get students in by rebranding courses… but Maths is a very practical course that will lead to a job. I made a video promoting Maths for people choosing their courses. We interviewed 6 Maths grads from Derby who all do different things. Another problem is I think students are worried about grades, and think it’s easier to get good grades by doing a non-science
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
I have people come in for work experience. I have a student working for me now in architecture. I also have a unique set-up as part of the University’s Access programme for adult returners. We do spend a lot of time advising if we see potential. I didn’t have a mentor when I was young. I think my career choice was a reaction against doing engineering
How would you define “professionalism”? 
A professional doesn’t mean you do things perfectly…an amateur can do things perfectly. Professionalism means doing something to an agreed standard within a given time period. You can’t say, “I’ll do it, but it’ll take me so long.” You have to give a time frame and you can’t let people down on time or quality. If people aren’t happy, you’ve then got to sort it out. This can happen years after you’ve worked with someone. Professionalism means you’ve always got a duty of care. As an architect mistakes are made and you have to sort them out
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
Yes, I think I’d go into science straight away. Specifically, I’d go into Maths straight away. As a mathematician people believe your best years are when you’re young. Given a choice, I’d be a mathematician in my twenties and an architect in my 50s and 60s
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
Just that he did something that nobody else had thought of. There’s nothing like having your names in books for immortality
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