Mathematician briefing notes

These notes will help you find your way through I’m a Mathematician, Get me out of here

Any more questions, or issues not covered, please email


I’m a Mathematician is an online activity that helps school students stay connected with maths, their teachers, and their classmates.

The activity gets young people talking to people who use maths, to learn about real maths in the real world. It goes deeper than ‘flash-bang-wow-inspiration!’. Students have fun but also get beyond stereotypes, learn about how maths relates to real life, develop their thinking and discussion skills and make connections with real ‘mathematicians’.

You also get to find out the students’ opinions on maths and society and get them thinking about how this affects their daily lives. All you need to take part is a computer with an internet connection.

Activity summary

You use this site to connect with young people (aged 9–18) at schools across the UK. You answer their questions about your day to day work, your career, your hobbies and interests, and just about anything the students can think of.

In addition to your Dashboard and profile there are three parts to the site:

  1. Students ASK you questions which you answer in your own time; the sooner the better.
  2. You CHAT with school students online, answering their questions and hearing their opinions.
  3. Students VOTE for the Mathematician of the Week.

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How to use the site

Log in

Go to and enter the username and password that we have emailed to you. Your username will usually be “firstnamelastname” (e.g. joebloggs).’

Your profile information

You have a profile including a photo of you, information about you and your work, and a set of “interview” questions. Find your profile from anywhere by clicking on your name at the top of any page in the zone, or on your Dashboard.

Your profile enables the students to find out more about you and your work. It’s really helpful if you fill in your profile as soon as possible.

When filling out your profile remember to save regularly, by using the “Update Profile” button at the bottom after filling in each section.

Log in then click on the Dashboard tab.

Click the Edit your profile button. There are four sections to your profile.

For the first sections you’ll be asked for a one sentence summary, and then a longer version. The short versions are all displayed on one page with a “read more” option underneath. Testing showed this makes it much easier for low literacy students, while it’s easy for students who want to read more to access it.

Don’t feel you need to write a lot, even for the longer versions; people reading online tend to prefer shorter texts- a short paragraph will be fine to give people ideas of what to ask you.

  • About me – This lets students find out more about you and your interests so they can see you as a real person!
  • My work —Here the students can read about what you do in more detail.
  • My typical day —Writing about your typical day gives students a tangible sense of what your work is like.
  • CV—This shows students how you’ve got to where you are now.
  • The interview — These one line questions are here to show your personal side to students, who often feel that people working in STEM are not like real people they can relate to.

Note on social media accounts: Please don’t add details of your social media accounts (Twitter handles, Instagram etc) to your profile page. This helps to keep the school students’ interactions with you during the activity in a fully moderated space, this website.

Your main profile picture

Please upload a friendly colour photo (not a black and white one) to use as your profile picture for the site.

Save and update your profile

When you have finished, click the Update Profile button at the bottom. You can come back and edit your profile at any time by clicking on your name at the top of any page.

Adding images and other media

You can put photos or other images (for example, graphs or images that illustrate your research or where you work) into the long answers  “About me”, “my work”, and “My typical day”.

You can also embed video. However, do be aware that some school systems will block YouTube and many other video sites.

This isn’t necessarily a reason not to use video, as it can be very effective, but don’t make understanding your profile dependent on viewing the video as it will leave out some students.

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Ways of interacting:

Answering ASK questions

You will be notified by email of all new questions in the ASK section. You can answer them in your own time, but the sooner the better.

  1. Log in
  2. On your Dashboard you will see a “My Unanswered Questions” box.
  3. To answer a question, click the link and type your answer.

You will also be able to view other scientists’ answers to the question. To make it easier to find questions moderators will tag keywords in questions. The keywords are then used to list any similar questions in the “Related Questions” box on the right hand side.

It is up to you what questions to answer and how much detail to go into. Don’t be afraid to write a really long answer, but at the same time you don’t need to write long answers.

Our advice is simple: Be honest, straightforward and to the point in your answers.

Answering questions on Coronavirus

We expect many questions about coronavirus/COVID-19 like ‘How does covid infect people?’ and personal ones like ‘How are you coping?’.

This advice will help you if you have concerns about how to answer: Guidance for questions on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Doing Live Chats

Live chats are consistently the most popular part of the activity for students, teachers and mathematicians alike.

They take place in our online chatrooms, where students ask you questions and express their opinions on your work over about half an hour.

Live chats are fun and give immediate contact between mathematicians and students, allowing students to relate to you.

Many teachers tell us that the quieter students are more active in live chats than face to face, providing an interesting change to class dynamics.

Remember, most students will be logging in from home, so be patient. They may also have family members with them, it’s worth asking to find out if they have questions too.

Managing chats

View the latest available CHAT sessions on your Dashboard. You can have up to 6 upcoming CHATS ‘Accepted’ here at once. Find the times of all upcoming chats on the full list for your zone.

  • Chat sessions last 40 minutes
  • Do as many chats as you want to do over the month. Whatever works for your schedule.
  • When enough mathematicians have Accepted a chat, the booking will not be visible for anyone else to Accept – However you can still come to the chat if you’re free then 🙂
  • If a chat is cancelled, it will disappear from your Accepted list
  • Check for new chats regularly. New ones are added each day. You will only see chats booked in the next few weeks.

Tips for the chats

  • Sometimes 2 or 3 chats run at once. Choose the chat you accepted or, if you’re dropping in, choose the one with fewer mathematicians in the chat.

  • Chats can be hectic, but also exhilarating. Enjoy the hurly-burly and don’t worry too much about your spelling!

  • To help you prioritise questions, the numbers next to each student’s username are how many times an expert has answered them. If you see a ‘0’ or ‘1’ there, this student may appreciate your next answer most.

  • Anyone with a mortarboard next to their name in a chat is a teacher.

  • Click on a student’s message to address your answer to a particular student. Otherwise they may not realise you’ve answered their question, and keep asking it. If you get behind on a chat room, it’s better to skip a few questions and get back to the bottom of the screen, otherwise you keep answering questions after the students have gone! Moderators have had a lot of practice and they can repeat questions that have been missed.

  • Use the ‘Message@[your name]’ option at the top right of the chat window to see only the messages directed at you in real-time. This helps to focus on relevant questions during busy chats.

  • Be patient. Some young people’s turn of phrase and use of language may be different from academic discourse. It may take you a little while to understand what they are trying to ask. This is especially true when Special Schools are involved.

  • Be tolerant. Sometimes young people can be over-exuberant online. Chat with them and they will calm down and engage with you.

  • Don’t take offence. Sometimes you will receive questions which seem quite blunt, but usually students don’t mean to be offensive. The benefit of an online activity is that they feel empowered to ask.

Moderation of questions: Our policy

All questions in ASK are moderated before they are sent to you. The moderators work very hard to strike a balance between making your lives easier as participants, and giving students the chance to ask real questions.

Remember most students are 13 or 14 years old, although there are some Sixth Form classes taking part too, or you may be in a Primary-only zone. Some classes are from Special Educational Needs Schools or young offender institutions.

Duplicate questions

We know you will get sent some very similar questions (believe us, the moderators wade through and weed out a lot more of them!).

Moderators will take out duplicate questions in ASK, but allow through questions which may be similar, but make additional or slightly different points.

Offensive questions

Moderators will remove rude or offensive questions (there are generally very few) and anything which breaks the house rules.

They will allow challenging questions. They will allow irreverent, but friendly, questions. There will always be a moderator or teacher logged in to the chatroom to help things along.

However, they are not miracle-workers, and from time to time there will be the odd chat that we cannot get on track. Bear with us, we’re doing our best!

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Rewards and recognition

We know you’re not doing this activity for the glory. However, we still want the time you’re giving to connect with students to be appreciated.

Be Mathematician of the Week

Students taking part each week get to vote for their favourite mathematicians. If you’re voted as a Weekly Winner, you will receive a Mathematician of the Week Winner certificate -once we’re able to post again.

You can take the VOTE part of the activity as seriously as you like. There’s no pressure on you to push for votes and no negative consequences for not winning. We never publish the number of votes.

For students and teachers, though, considering who to vote for is an important part of the activity. It gives students a reason to think critically about the work you do. Please keep this in mind if you’re asked ‘Why should we vote for you?’.

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Four key things you need to know

1. This may take about 2–3 hours some days.

Depending on your schedule, you might do three half-hour CHATs on one day, then not be able to do any on other days. That’s completely fine, there are other mathematicians online to share out the load.

The ASK questions can be answered whenever you like, so don’t feel the need to completely clear your list every single night/lunch break. We’ve heard they are particularly useful for passing the time on rainy weekends…

2. This is not a seminar for the super-smart mathematicians of the future.

There will be a wide variation in the students taking part and a big variation in ability. Some will be “gifted and talented” students, some will be lower ability classes, or have special educational needs. The point of the activity is to provide a space that engages all students, not just the ones who might go on to study STEM subjects at university.

Most young people won’t grow up to do the same job as you, but they will all grow up to be people. As adults they’ll have to make decisions using maths — as voters, as consumers — and we are trying to help them develop the skills and confidence to do that.

For some, “Where do bogies come from?” or, “Do you like your job?” may be the most pressing question they can think of. Part of the point is that this activity humanises maths for young people; they realise that you are “like normal people” who they can relate to.

3. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”.

You will be asked some questions which are not in your area of maths. Answer what you feel you can, but don’t feel you have to Google all evening to answer these questions.

Part of the point of the activity is that students get more realistic ideas about maths. They can learn that, for example, there’s no reason why a sports statistician should know much about the stock market. This makes maths roles seem a lot less intimidating. You can use maths without being a genius who knows everything! This can be a liberating realisation for students.

4. Get your boss onside.

We’d strongly advise you to tell your boss you are taking part in the activity, and get their support, if you can. Participants say that this made a big difference. Questions on the website can be answered during the evening, but live chats have to be during the school day, likely during working hours.

Also, many people found themselves discussing some of the more intriguing questions with colleagues. This can be one of the most stimulating things about the activity. Get your workplace involved in the fun! If you need ammunition to persuade your boss of the benefits, we suggest the following points:

  • Taking part in I’m a Mathematician develops your communication skills. This is the most mentioned benefit from taking part.
  • It can re-energise you about your own work, and get you thinking differently. Teenagers can ask great questions.
  • It can broaden your relationships with other people using maths. It’s easy sometimes to get stuck in your specialism. People in previous activities have learnt, or been reminded of many other areas, and even formed collaborations (or friendships) with people in other areas who they “met” during I’m a Mathematician
  • You’re “giving something back” and contributing to maths education and the future of your field.

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Advice on engagement

Be yourself

Our best advice is to be yourself in your answers. You don’t need to pretend to like Beyoncé/Justin Bieber/Taylor Swift for young people to relate to you, being genuine is what’s important.

Be friendly

When we asked people what they would do differently if they did it again, one answer that summed up many was, “I would be less formal and more personal from the start”.

De-technify your language

Even if you think you are using easy-to-understand language, you likely work in an environment where there is a lot of jargon, and technical words are often used when more accessible ones are available. It’s easy not to realise when your language may be going over the heads of most 13 year olds.

Don’t “identify”, “find”. Don’t “utilise”, “use”. Don’t “investigate”, “look at”.

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Talk to us!

Please communicate with other participants and the moderation team, as well as the students. We’ve occasionally had people finish the activity and say in feedback that they were having technical problems, or were worried about particular questions, or similar. We’d much rather hear at the time so we can do something about it.

Let us know if you’re having problems by using the feedback form on the your profile page, use the Staffroom chat page, or email us directly.

We use our Twitter as a way to interact with experts taking part in I’m a Mathematician, among other things. It’s a great way to communicate how your zone is going, learn more about you, the people taking part, and ultimately keep in touch with everyone after the activity. Get on board: Follow us at @imamathsuk, and keep an eye on tweets marked #IASStayAtHome. (And have you got your exclusive Twitter badge yet?)


If you need any help, please email

Visit the Staffroom at during the activity to say Hi, or if you’ve got a question for the moderators.

The small print page

By accepting your invitation to I’m a Mathematician you are agreeing to these listed terms and conditions

We think you’ll agree with it but it’s best to be sure, so please have a read.

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