Inspiring Women - mathematician Dr Sofya Lyakhova

As part of the University International Women’s Day celebrations, each week during March the University will showcase a range of successful and inspiring women that work, study and support Swansea University.

Sofya LyakhovSince joining Swansea, Sofya has created and led the Further Mathematics Support Programme for Wales. This began as a pilot project in South Wales, providing support to gifted Mathematics students who wanted to take Further Mathematics at AS or A level, but whose schools could not provide sufficient support for this. Under Sofya’s guidance FMSP(W) has always sought to provide broader support, helping gifted students with A level Mathematics, and up-skilling teachers so that they feel more confident delivering the whole Mathematics syllabus. In 2016 the tremendous success of this pilot was recognised by the Welsh Government with a decision to roll the programme out across the whole of Wales, under Sofya’s continuing leadership. 

While visiting schools across Wales Sofya became very aware of gender issues, and the stark under-representation of girls at Further Mathematics A level. She has worked hard to address this, organising a number of Masterclasses over the years aimed specifically at girls, throughout the levels of secondary education, to build up their confidence, and encourage them to see Maths as something they can do, and something worth doing. Thanks to Sofya’s efforts the gender balance within Wales is considerably better than it was 5 years ago. Many young women are now pursuing Mathematics or Science degrees as a direct result of Sofya’s work and inspiration.

This also led to the establishment of the Mathematics Education research group at Swansea University. One of the first major studies of this group considered the issues that determine students’ choices of whether to study Mathematics and Further Mathematics at AS or A level. This is sure to impact on the delivery of Mathematics teaching at these levels throughout Wales and beyond as the implications of this study are worked out.

Along with colleagues at UWTSD Sofya has been looking more broadly at Mathematics education throughout Wales, in the light of the Donaldson report and recommendations of the Mathematics Task and Finish group. This led to Sofya and Howard Tanner of UWTSD submitting a proposal to establish a National Centre of Excellence in Mathematics, based in Swansea, and providing CPD for teachers, establishing a stronger framework of evidence-based teaching practice, and ultimately improving the quality and output of Mathematics education throughout Wales. This proposal was very positively received, and in November 2016 Welsh Education Secretary Kirsty Williams announced that £800,000 was to be invested in establishing a new National Network of Excellence in Mathematics based on Sofya’s proposal. By changing the quality and perception of Mathematics teaching throughout Wales this will have a massive impact on the scientific and computational knowledge base of the country.

For one woman to achieve so much, there can be no doubt that they are indeed truly inspirational.

Jane Barham,
Department of Mathematics,
College of Science