Postgraduate Study as a MORSE Student at Birmingham

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By Holly, Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Econometrics
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham


Hi there, my name is Holly, and I’m a MSc Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Econometrics (MORSE) student here at the University of Birmingham. Now in the second semester of my degree, I am eager to reflect upon my experience over the past 6 months as a postgraduate taught student in the School of Mathematics. In doing so, I hope I can perhaps provide some insight into what life may look like for an MSc student or debunk some of the main worries (or questions people have asked me!).

What is MORSE? Why did you choose it over a MSci Mathematics degree?

MORSE is an acronym for ‘Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Econometrics’ –  a little bit of a mouthful, but an impressive-sounding one (and appropriately so!) Within this multidisciplinary field, you would expect to study mathematical optimisation techniques, operational methods, programming, and statistical methods, alongside their applications to economics, finance, medicine, industrial management, natural sciences and beyond.

As to why I chose MORSE, there any many reasons – I actually graduated in 2021 with a first class BA Mathematics and Music (hons) degree, after writing my dissertation in maths on the combinatorial study of bell-ringing (highly unexpected from a music student, of course) and was eager to stay in education for a further year. In very simple terms, I was definitely not ready to leave academia and wanted to transfer my broad array of understanding, and in particular, quantitative analytical skills, to real-world problems.

How highly is MORSE regarded by employers? What are your future career plans?

Having spoken to upwards of 30 potential employers, there has not been a single instance in which the company representative has not been outwardly enthusiastic about the prospect of hiring someone with a degree in MORSE. In my experience, postgraduate mathematical study is an incredibly attractive one, one that has definitely advantaged me over many impressive candidates.

After applying to what felt like every actuarial/audit/consultancy role in existence, and completing many assessment processes, making the final stages of only a few, I have now very excitedly accepted my offer to join KPMG as a Graduate Consultant in Financial Transformation this September. Enrolling onto a prestigious scheme such as this one was particularly attractive to me due to its flexibility and variability – you are encouraged to challenge yourself and experiment in order to figure out exactly what specific direction you want to take your career in.

It has become very evident to me that it is absolutely okay to not have the next 5-10 years of your professional life laid out – or even know what is to come in the next few, it is a brand new venture!

Do you have any spare time? If so, what do you do with it?

Although postgraduate study has been demanding, I feel as though most weeks I manage to achieve a good level balance in my life. This is definitely still something I am working on, slowly learning to focus on the things I can control rather than cannot. With roughly 20 hours of contact hours a week, consisting of lectures and example classes, alongside the many hours of independent study, essential reading, and frequent formative assignments – you need to be a self-disciplined, resilient individual willing to prioritise studying in order to excel in such a fast-paced environment.

But what else do I get up to apart from hanging out solo in study spaces? Firstly, exercise is hugely important to me, so I usually aim to do two 1-2 hour sessions at the gym and two 2-3 hour sessions at the Depot climbing gym in city centre per week. At the weekends I have been travelling to visit either my boyfriend or best friend, trying to keep those days as work free as possible whenever deadlines allow it.

I choose to consume alcohol a lot less these days for both mental health and financial reasons, although have had a few great nights out in Digbeth over the past few months and look forward to planning lots of nice things soon. If I am doing none of the above and not scrolling through social media, I will probably be either tutoring the GCSE maths students I have, calling or meeting up with friends (often intertwined with my exploration of the restaurants around the city), cooking up a storm in the kitchen with whatever is left in the fridge (often questionable) or lying on my bed trying to figure out why my code is displaying 2000 errors.

What advice would you offer to someone considering a similar degree?

Having a basic understanding of a popular coding language, such as Python or Java, prior to starting the course will definitely save a good amount of time throughout the year. Although any modules requiring the submission of coding assignments as coursework will be appropriate for novice coders, I definitely wish I had looked into R (for my applied statistics module) and C++ (for my advanced mathematical finance module), as it has definitely taken longer than what I would have liked to get to grips with things.

Another piece of advice would be to get yourself onto campus to use study spaces (teaching and learning is my personal favourite, but sometimes I mix it up – crazy I know) and attend office hours regularly – get into the habit of doing so early on. Taking a list of questions to your professor, even if they feel really silly sometimes, and chatting around a subject one-to-one has proved invaluable to me. Particularly difficult concepts, such as quadratic programming, have actually proved to be rooted in relatively basic principles. I believe I have great relationships with all of my lecturers and will often find myself chatting to them on the stairs around the Watson building and campus.

There is a MSc Friday Lunch club which is a great opportunity to chat to other postgraduate taught students on Applied Mathematics, Financial Engineering and Mathematical Finance courses (as well as consume as many biscuits are your heart desires!). It has been fantastic meeting lots of wonderful people – so many of them from different backgrounds, both academic and cultural. Take up as many opportunities as you can and ask as many questions as you feel necessary, and you will absolutely fine.     

If you wanted to read more about the course, you can here.