Conference photograph of participants in PiFORUM23
The participants for PiFORUM23

On a very sunny Thursday in September we, the Piscopia Initiative, hosted our 3rd PiFORUM. There was an excellent turnout from undergraduates all the way to postdoctoral researchers from universities across the UK. In total, we had around 60 people in attendance. Our main goal was to provide a day where our community could come together and meet each other, make friends and break down some of the barriers between career stages.

During the day, we had talks from 26 people on a variety of topics. We ran sessions in parallel, with one pure and two applied streams. Piscopia asked each speaker to begin their talk by speaking a little bit about how they got to where they were today. The aim of these intros was to encourage conversation beyond an individual's research and to foster a friendly, community atmosphere by getting to know a bit about the people as well as their work.

During the day, we also had a panel discussion on careers and a workshop on challenges for women and non-binary researchers in academia. We had panellists from academia and industry as well as a range of career stages. Our hope for this session was that people would go away feeling more confident about their career aspirations and have debunked some of the myths about what you can do with a PhD in Maths. Spoiler – you can do lots! The workshop allowed our attendees to talk in small groups about some of the challenges that women and underrepresented genders have in academia.

We had a poster competition in the afternoon with 15 entries. This time, the judges weren't the only ones to have their say, we also had a popular vote. During this session, presenters would stand by their poster and answer any questions as people walked around.

Prizes were awarded for talks and posters, with the following winners:

  • 1st place talk awarded to Houda Haidar from Newcastle University - “Supermassive Black holes through the eye of JWST”
  • 2nd place talk awarded to Josh Fogg from the Maxwell Institute Graduate School - “Portfolio Optimization for Genetic Selection”
  • Judges' choice best poster was awarded to Rahma Abdulahi from the University of Birmingham - “Parameter Estimation and Model Selection in Detergent Formulation”
  • People's choice best poster was awarded to Bethany Clarke from Imperial College London - “Bifurcation Analysis in Active Filament Models”

Finally, after all that hard work, we got round to some Mindful Spirograph! Led by Rachel Evans, aka SpirographGirl, everyone spent an hour making little canvases and learning about the maths behind Spirograph.

We’d like to thank The Heilbronn Small Grant Scheme which allowed us to fund the travel and accommodation of lots of our attendees. They also paid for lunch! We also had support from the London Mathematical Society and the Edinburgh Mathematical Society. We also thank the University of Birmingham for letting us take over the Watson Building for the day with our antics!

Finally, we’d like to thank all those who came to PiFORUM23! The event would not have been the same were it not for our friendly and welcoming community. We hope to see you next year if not before at our local university events!

If you’re interested in getting involved, either by starting a local committee or helping with our national initiatives, then please get in touch with us via email or through our social media. And as always, tell your colleagues, friends and anyone who will listen about us.

PiFORUM stands out as one of the best conferences I’ve attended. It provided a welcoming and stimulating environment where students at various stages of their academic journeys (undergrads, postgrads, post-docs) could showcase their research and expertise in their fields to a broader STEM audience, with an emphasis on mathematics and related subjects. While Piscopia’s primary aim is to empower women and non-binary students by offering them a networking platform, the conference was still of high scientific value. A highlight for me was the opportunity to connect with people from diverse institutions and disciplines, gaining insights into their research and their unique journeys into STEM. On a lighter note, the spirograph session was uniquely refreshing—it was like getting a spa but for your brain! How cool is that? Now I expect every conference to end with a relaxing session led by the Spirograph Girl!

Houda, Newcastle University