London Calling with Career Opportunities II

If you’re a mathematician, you don’t need to go work for Dominic Cummings in order to have dramatically improved career opportunities in the UK. The British government has just announced a huge increase in funding for mathematical research: 60 million pounds/year (or about \$80 million dollars) for the next five years (see here and here). To get some idea of the scale of this, note that the US GDP is about 8 times the UK’s and the NSF DMS budget is about \$240 million/year. So the comparable scale of this funding in the US would be about two and a half times the NSF budget for mathematics.

Many of my mathematician colleagues have sometimes seemed to me to be of the opinion that a huge increase in funding for math research is the best way to improve a society. We’ll see if this works for Britain.

While the new UK government ran on a nativist platform of restricting immigration, with the goal of keeping outsiders from taking bread out of the mouths of UK citizens, this doesn’t apply to mathematicians: all limits are off and we’re encouraged to flood the country. The law will be changed on Friday, changes go into effect Feb. 20. This will include an “accelerated path to settlement”, no need to even have a job offer, and all your “dependents [will] have full access to the labour market”, no problem with them and the taking the bread out of the mouths of the locals thing.

Update: More here (except it’s mostly behind a paywall, but evidently Ivan Fesenko is quoted).

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25 Responses to London Calling with Career Opportunities II

1. Robinson says:

A sensible policy for sure. Mathematics is at the ground floor of so much (all, in fact) of science and technology.

2. Peter Woit says:

Robinson,

Yes, and I should point out that my own work has always been aimed at progress on the foundations of math, physics, and so all science and technology. The world could thus be significantly improved by bags of cash being brought to my office on the fourth floor of the Math building. Thanks.

3. Not Cummings says:

You obviously are not aware of how toxic the debate has been in the UK over Brexit, otherwise you wouldn’t be so silly to use the inflammatory sarcasm implied by “the goal of keeping outsiders from taking bread out of the mouths of UK citizens”

Don’t be dumb, it doesn’t help.

4. Peter Woit says:

Not Cummings,
Living in another Rupert Murdoch-controlled society in which toxic nativism plays a big role, inflammatory sarcasm seems as good a way to react to it as any.

5. Chris Oakley says:

As for anti-immigration, that platform only belongs to the far right here. The major political parties, including the governing Conservatives, only ever make pro-immigrant noises in public. Leaving the EU was, officially, more about not being bossed around by Brussels than fear of Bulgarians taking our jobs (although a native English person would probably not be prepared to work for the same money anyway …) Having large numbers of foreigners coming here to study or practise science and medicine is nothing new here. The Gates scholarships in Cambridge, for example, have attracted a lot of students from the Far East.

6. Peter Woit says:

Not Cummings/Chris Oakley,

I see The Register has its own sarcastic take on this, headlining their story
https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/01/28/boffin_uk_visa_program/
with
“Boris celebrates taking back control of Brexit Britain’s immigration – with unlimited immigration program
Don’t worry: The PM’s only going to let the best boffins in… honest”

7. martibal says:

Maybe one should subtract from this “huge amount of additional money” the european fundings that UK may lost after the Brexit. Is the increase still so huge ? I think UK benefits quite a lot from the european research program (like ERC or Marie-Curie grants).

8. Robinson says:

If you think the UK could feed, cloth and house twenty five million low paid Indian and Chinese immigrants, make the case for completely open borders. If you don’t believe in completely open borders then you have an immigration policy, and I would be interested to know what it is.

There’s a general misconception in certain quarters that the UK’s vote to Leave the European Union was an act of xenophobia (demonstrated here and elsewhere), when all surveys show that along with Norway the UK is one of the most welcoming countries for migrants in the whole of Europe. The “increase in hate crime” you read about is simply an increase in the recording of accusations of “hate crime”, which can include being mean to someone on Twitter. 99% of these alleged crimes are never investigated. It’s quite ridiculous.

The sneering and sarcasm I’m reading tells me that both here and in the US and in Europe the left has completely failed to absorb any lessons from Trump, Brexit and most recently the complete annihilation of Corbyn at the ballot box. On current trend it’ll be at least one more election cycle before it starts to sink in.

9. Peter Woit says:

Robinson,
Yes, countries need immigration policies. I don’t think there was anything all that wrong with the Obama-era ones here in the US, or the pre-Boris Johnson ones in the UK (which I am less familiar with).

I find it hard to believe that anyone is naive enough to believe that Trump/Johnson/Cummings are simply well-meaning public servants driven by an intense desire to work out a fair and just immigration system. I do think that most people, at least in the US, have absorbed a big lesson from Trump: dishonest pandering to xenophobia can help a lot in bringing you to power and keeping you there. The question is what to do about this lesson. The right has decided to embrace this tactic and support the demagogues using it, the left, it is true, has found no way to fight it.

Sorry, but on the hot-button immigration issues, no more here now, this kind of internet comment section debate is worthless.

How attractive are the working conditions for mathematicians (and academics more generally) in the UK these days. I haven’t paid too much attention, but my impression was that UK universities have in recent years become even more ridiculously bureaucratic and metrics crazed than those in the US.

11. Rod Deyo says:

It’s nice that pure mathematics will be generously funded in the UK, but will new theorems about motivic homotopy, p-adic Galois representations, or even a solution to the latest Erdos conjecture you never heard of, really solve society’s economic and social problems?

At least the US is throwing money at more “applied” will ‘o wisps, such as quantum computing.

12. SnarkyButNotTotallyWrong says:

Rod,

“but will new theorems … really solve society’s economic and social problems?”

Perhaps! Because every highly intelligent person to whom you grant a lifetime position with a slightly better than subsistence salary and a small office stuffed with arcane books where they can live out the rest of their days pondering motivic homotopy and p-adic Galois representations in obscurity is one less highly intelligent person who could otherwise use their skills to destroy the world (witness, for example, Dominic Cummings).

13. Anonyrat says:

This webpage on UK funding of the mathematical sciences may be of interest. It has some nice charts and tables about areas of funding.

https://epsrc.ukri.org/research/ourportfolio/themes/mathematics/

14. Peter Woit says:

Anonyrat,

That’s for current EPSRC math research grants. I’m curious if there’s anything available explaining where the new money will be targeted. Note that the 100 million pound number seems to be for total (presumably multi-year) grant commitments. I gather many of these are grants for up to six years. The description of the new money is that it is for 300 million pounds over 6 years, so this is consistent with a truly huge increase in funding for math research grants.

Perhaps someone who actually understands these numbers can explain better what the current situation is and how it will change.

15. Anonymous says:

The £60 million/year will go to: 1) extending PhD fellowships and Research Associate positions to 4 and 5 years respectively (£19 million); 2) different kinds of grants (£34 million), and 3) extra money for specific research institutes in Bristol, Cambridge and Edinburgh (£7 million).

More details in

https://epsrc.ukri.org/newsevents/news/major-funding-boost-for-mathematical-sciences/

16. Anonyrat says:

As of 2017/18: “The current funding landscape in the UK shows significant overseas funding for Mathematical Sciences with £21.5m research income from the EU and £7.1m from other overseas sources. Together these account for 28% of the total research income to Mathematical Sciences compared with 55% from UK Research Council funding and 17% from other sources including health, industry and charities.”

https://www.lms.ac.uk/sites/lms.ac.uk/files/files/LMS%20Mathematical%20Sciences%20and%20the%20Industrial%20Stategy%20designv17.pdf

17. Amitabh Lath says:

If you want to create native mathematicians maybe spend some of those  on K-12 math instruction? The “honors” math track in the US seems to be pre-calc in 11th grade and AP-calculus in 12th. Full disclosure, I have a kid in 11th grade on this trajectory. It’s a good high school (Alan Guth’s an alum!).

A few miles south there are some rich school districts that offer Calculus to 10th graders, differential equations in 11th, and real analysis in 12th. About 2-3 dozen students/yr go this track. I suspect this setup is replicating the path familiar to the asian immigrant STEM-professional parents who make up a sizable minority in these districts.

You might argue this is a waste of money, and injures students but I interview these kids for MIT and a common refrain is I didn’t know what math was for until I did analysis!

18. Peter Woit says:

Anonyrat,
Nature has an article about the post-Brexit scientific relationship with the EU. In brief, nothing will change for a while, very much up in the air what they’ll agree on for the future.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00215-0

Amit,

The new UK government’s decision to make math research one of its first priorities, with emphasis on bringing in foreign researchers, is pretty unusual. More conventional would be to emphasize funding math education, with a goal of training those now in the UK to staff these research jobs. It looks like the new British government hasn’t yet figured out exactly what it will do about education, see
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/jul/31/will-boris-johnsons-present-for-hard-up-teachers-be-enough

And, yes, for the best young math students, providing a curriculum in high schools that goes beyond basic calculus is a good idea. In the list you give, I’d replace real analysis with linear algebra.

19. tulpoeid says:

Although this will probably not appear in the comments section, I’d like to +1 opinions like Robinson’s “there’s a general misconception in certain quarters that the UK’s vote to Leave the European Union was an act of xenophobia”. It surprises me, as a scientist, to see people opposing Brexit on the ground of perceived xenophobia _and_ being totally dismissive to its supporters (in some cases as if the latter are too idiotic to even be present in online forums).

Some, or many, people voted for Brexit because of immigration. Many others did for completely different reasons. I’d never vote for remain if I were a UK citizen, as I oppose the political-financial structure that the EU has become today – therefore I believe that there are several others like me in UK right now.

But still, if we decide to focus on immigration, it’d be helpful to consider how many non-native inhabitants the UK has: the answer is *a lot*. This aspect shouldn’t be disregarded, the British society shouldn’t be dumped while other, actual xenophobic governments in countries where immigrants are suffering, are made to look angelic in comparison.

20. Peter Woit says:

tulpoeid,
I’ve no interest in debating the substantive issues around Brexit. I’m not that well-informed and it’s not my country. A couple explanations though of why I have referred (with “inflammatory sarcasm”) to the Cummings/Brexit/immigration issue.

1. While I’m not so well informed about the UK, I’m very well-informed about the US, where Trump and his enablers have very successfully exploited dishonest appeals to xenophobia in order to come to power. We’ve seen a lot of this here, with surely a lot more to come before November. The little I’ve seen of the UK media coverage of the immigration issue there smells exactly the same as the garbage we’re subjected to here by Fox and Trump.

2. Cummings has played a central role in this. For those not familiar with the story, see for instance
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/08/vote-leave-racism-brexit-uncivil-war-channel-4
which covers some of the story of the dishonest but effective way Cummings used his talents at Vote Leave to get out the xenophobe vote.

I don’t think Cummings/Johnson are xenophobes themselves, but I do think Cummings is a master of the new technology of social control. Now that he’s more or less in charge of the country, perhaps he’ll use his talents for good, not evil. But best to be aware of the history of your new masters. Making an honest case to the public is not their thing.

21. Dan F. says:

Only about half of US federal funding for mathematical sciences comes from the NSF. The rest comes from the DOD, DOE, etc., and the real funding levels for mathematical sciences are somewhat higher than you indicate.

22. Although this is made clear in the links provided above, it may be worth emphasizing here that the “mathematical sciences” to be supported by this windfall are broadly defined in the UK, ranging from proving theorems to engineering and “Innovative Manufacturing”. The funding is going to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which does what it says on the tin. While my view may be distorted by the funding calls that come to my attention, I expect quantum technologies (uknqt.epsrc.ac.uk), data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence to be major beneficiaries (among others, of course).

One complication is that most nuclear/particle/astro/cosmology research—especially on the experimental side—is funded by a different Research Council, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). EPSRC and STFC are doing some joint funding of quantum simulation research, and each funds their own national supercomputing facilities (ARCHER and DiRAC, respectively). My area of lattice field theory is mostly STFC-supported, but can go after some EPSRC funding by focusing on data science and high-performance computing aspects. Similarly, string theory is mostly STFC-supported, but can go after some EPSRC funding by focusing on ‘mathematical physics’ aspects. I’m told that EPSRC support for string theory (and anything else that looks nuclear/particle/astro/cosmology) has dwindled over the past decade, but it may rebound now that they have all this extra cash to spend.

Regarding AcademicLurker’s comment, my experience is indeed that UK universities are more bureaucratic and metrics-focused than those in the US, with the caveat that I was only a student and postdoc in the US, which shielded me from the bulk of the bureaucracy there. Salaries also tend to be lower in the UK, but on the plus side there’s not a tenure gauntlet.

23. tulpoeid says:

I see, that link about the brexit campaign seems quite illuminating (and takes into account that not everyone anti-present-EU is a racist).

24. Art says:

Oh dear. Respect for science devolves into advocacy of racism. Cummings, meet Schockley…