Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Undergraduate research (UKPSF: A5, K6)

My research area is lattice QCD, a sub-field of theoretical particle physics. The University is keen for students to be involved in research.  However, the background to my research requires an understanding of quantum field theory and Lie group theory, as well as expertise in high performance computing. We don't teach these subjects at Plymouth, so the students don't have the background knowledge.

The professional bodies for mathematics has a document describing what mathematics undergraduates should learn on a degree. Actually it is the quality assurance body in the UK. The document is actually very vague to what knowledge and skills is expected to be learned by the students. The statement about the level of knowledge is interesting.

An important further source of diversity is, in many cases, the influence of the
research and professional interests of academic staff. While undergraduate programmes in mathematics, statistics and operational research are not generally expected to reach the
frontiers of knowledge, it is a stimulating experience for a learner to be taught a subject by someone who is an active researcher or professional in the field. The choice of material presented in mathematics, statistics and operational research programmes, while mainly determined by its educational value, is nevertheless often influenced in detail by the research and professional interests of the academic staff.
When I was talking to a colleague about this, he told me that no one really believes that undergraduate students can not do research into mathematics, but what we can do is research informed teaching.  
This is consistent with the above quote from the subject benchmark. 

This post concerns A5 and K6 from the UKPSF.