Into the mind of a mathematician

By |January 26th, 2015|Quick thoughts|0 Comments

“… what is a teacher? You see, mathematicians don’t think of themselves as teachers. That should be clear. They lecture. Sometimes they like to and sometimes they don’t. But that’s not what you [as a teacher] think of. You think of yourself as doing mathematics [while students observe].”

One of Gustin’s participants believed that mathematicians don’t really teach: rather they imitate and demonstrate and encourage others to do the same.

Gustin, W. C. (1985), The development of exceptional research mathematicians, in B. S. Bloom, ed., Developing Talent in Young People, New York, pp. 270–331.

Innocent Eyes

By |January 19th, 2015|Essays|0 Comments

The past few days have put me in a reflective mood. I do that from time to time. I can’t help it. But a few things made me look back.

I visited an old blog of mine, which had posts that I made from as far back as 2006, when I was in the middle of my undergraduate studies. Of course, like any 21 year old, I posted one heck of a lot of rubbish, but there were some things that I wrote that chimed a little.

I was, and still am, really quite introverted and much of my creativity never leaves the cells that comprise my frame. Nonetheless, I did share a thing or two, so I’ve incorporated these posts on my site and I’m in the process of sorting them.

After talking with a cherished friend, I found myself in a reflective mood. In particular, I was reminded of the songs I used to listen to in my teenage years, which are somewhat embarrassing but I listened to again. Think Avril Lavigne, Delta Goodrem, Backstreet Boys, Dido, Texas, Wet Wet Wet, Hot Chocolate, Hanson… I was never the cool kid!

You might be laughing but, in a way, so was I. It reminded me of a time when I knew I was happy. I wasn’t free of troubles, but I didn’t want things to change. Of course, things do. School ended, university began.

I didn’t find undergraduate study particularly enjoyable. There were aspects of it that I relished, but I never really got to explore myself and who I am. My PGCE study was good in the sense that I spent it with good people and I grew to learn about myself a little more; but the stress of teacher training and effectively failing pretty much ruined it.

My time in Loughborough (which is still going, by the way!) was broadly great. There are (and were!) some amazingly lovely and wonderful people. Inspiring, even. But depression killed the opportunity to enjoy it to its potential. Everything was there for me to fly and flourish, but ultimately my brain was my greatest asset and worst enemy. I couldn’t have had one without the other, I suppose.

Now I’ve found myself in Oxford. So far, things are going well enough. I’m continuing the things I enjoyed with my PhD studies (albeit without the people on such a regular basis) and working on further projects that stimulate me and invoke my interests.

Perhaps now that I know myself a little better, particularly for having had my recent journey through depression, I can rebuild that feeling of contentment that had long since eluded me.

And so it may continue

By |January 6th, 2015|Recent news|0 Comments

Today I started my new job at Oxford Brookes University. I’m a postdoctoral pedagogic research assistant (though you can call me “Stephen”, for short). I will be working on a number of research projects that the department will be running.

I’ve also moved into Headington, Oxford. I’m told it’s quite a fancy place, so please excuse me if my tastes suddenly change towards things more refined (I’ve already had a debate on the virtues of Yorkshire Tea over Twinings!).

So far so good. I really enjoyed my first day. I’m having my photo taken for the departmental website tomorrow, so I shall have to endure a second day of overdressing.

Welcome to 2015!

By |January 1st, 2015|Recent news|0 Comments

Well, 2014 was quite a remarkable year in many ways, but I won’t look back so much. There were ups and downs, as everyone has. The year ended sadly, with the passing of my grandfather; but it also ended with being offered a job at Oxford Brookes University as a postdoctoral pedagogic research assistant. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I can’t wait to start!

So I’m hoping for positive change this year: a new life in Oxford; a better sharing of understanding of asexuality; transitioning from a 20-something to a 30; meeting new people.

I’ve made friends with so many lovely people over the past 12 months. I’d love to meet more of them this year.

Teenager highlights ‘prejudice and discrimination’ against asexuality in documentary

The Mirror reports that a teenager — Josh Scott — has created a video and pamphlet about the problems caused by a lack of understanding of asexuality.

While The Mirror has been drawn towards the phrase “hypersexualised society”, Scott has focussed more upon the growing pains of misunderstanding one’s own sexuality by not having all the facts. Sexuality is so complex, so fluid, and so diverse that being told “you’re either, straight, gay or bi” is bound to leave many young adults wondering why they don’t fit in.

Asexuals want orientation recognised

“I want it to get into sex ed and sexual counselors,” Decker, a writer and an asexual, said of the book. “So that it will work into the common knowledge and common narrative about what sexuality is.”

Asexuals want orientation recognized, Valley News.

A grandson’s lament

By |November 24th, 2014|Recent news|0 Comments

Last night, my grandfather — who we called “Papa” — passed away. He was 85.

Not surprisingly for a grandchild, I’d known him all my life. My earliest memories of him were of him carrying me around the living/dining room in their old house in Stocksfield, Northumberland, singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” to me. I love how he used to remember such things — small details — about what I did and how I reacted to things: I had a favourite tablecloth; I used to sit in the leather seat and watch the trains go by at the bottom of the garden. I even remember the tiny football we used to play with in the garden.

Papa was a creative person. He was a reasonably accomplished artist and painted impressive miniatures in oil, acrylic and watercolour. He forged a career in textiles; he made dresses. He became a lecturer in this area. Although he was pretty conservative in his views, he was not afraid of venturing away from the crowd.

He was somewhat a leader to me. Of anyone, he encouraged me the most in my ambitions to be a doctor. I recall he sat down beside me once when I was doing some homework and I was practising joined-up handwriting. I owe my handwriting to him! He and Mama bought me a watercolour set so that I could try to paint like he did, and he sat down and taught me some watercolour techniques. I used to read to him. I played chess with him (badly). They bought me my first musical instrument — a recorder — and encouraged me to learn how to play it.

Among people that know him, he was famous for his stories: detailed recollections of experiences he’d had, almost certainly embellished to some extent, but always with a lesson to be learned. Examples included how he came to acquire his first name — Donald, how he became a lecturer, and how he had become the first man to acquire a qualification in textiles. No matter what I had encountered in life, he had a comparable story and the benefit of his experiences to impart. Much of my courage when trying things outside my comfort zone was the belief that “someone else has done this before, so I should be able to” and Papa was more than likely an example of this person.

When I started my PhD, he was my greatest inspiration. He had long quipped about being able to call me “doctor” when I qualified as a medical practitioner. Of course, that never came to pass. He was delighted when I told him I would be doing a PhD in Mathematics Education. It was our dream rekindled. I was desperate to finish my thesis on time so that I could hear him call me “Doctor Broughton”. Alas, that dream was never to be.

Although the raw emotion following his passing is painful and that I am consumed by regret right now, I know that in time that I will be ok because of him. Although he can no longer be my leader in life, he has given me everything that he could. I am prepared. I am strong. I am prepared to face up to my challenges and to continue to make him proud.

To Papa, Donald Broughton, thank you for everything. We will look after Mama.

1st April 1929 — 23rd November 2014

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

Coming out of invisibility

But as soon as people started to publicly equate asexuality with other queer identities, like homosexuality or transgender, there was backlash from LGBTQI groups. Some believed that asexuality as an identity and asexuals as individuals were trying to hop onto the LGBTQI train without facing the same levels of visible discrimination; some accused them of being closeted queer folk unwilling to disclose their true sexual identity and thus hiding behind a false label.

Asexual activists refute this by noting that they are still classified as a pathological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and described as individuals with low self esteem, social anxiety, and depression in studies on their identity.

Coming Out of Invisibility, Mark Hay, Good Magazine

This post has been making waves in the ace community. The links to related content strongly support the messages that the author wishes to convey: asexuality is, indeed, a thing and there are a lot of issues that are yet to be addressed. In particular, discrimination and persecution does exist.

Accepting and giving compliments

By |November 13th, 2014|Recent news|0 Comments

Since my teens I’ve found it difficult to accept compliments. It’s hard to describe why.

I felt that in my pre-teens I had a cult-of-personality developed on my behalf. I was on top of the world and capable of anything and was told so. I was by no means a prodigy, but I was surprised by how I was consistently doing better than my peers in a school system that accepted the most able in the community. I was reasonably popular and had become accustomed to winning votes, favour, recognition and privilege (if missing classes to attend school councils can be considered privilege!). These kinds of things go to a child’s head. I had visions of grandeur.

I had a few knocks in my life that ensured that I could not rest assured of comfort and happiness. I was generally a happy child and, although I fared less well than most of my peers, I had a privileged enough existence. Yet I cannot blame these knocks for what changed my outlook on life.

It was a dream. I saw myself in the third person. Brash. Arrogant. Imposing. Still popular, but naive; I couldn’t see for myself the effects of my cockiness on others. In my nightmare, it resulted in someone else dying. My conscience is such that that outcome was worse than it might have been had I been murdered as a result of my deeds. It was truly a personalised nightmare.

I changed after that. Immeasurably so. I found compliments hard to accept. I rejected the praise of my achievements, my abilities and my character because they felt like they would contribute to the development of the bad aspects of my character.

But as I have found it difficult to receive compliments, so I’ve avoided giving compliments. There have been wonderful people that I’ve encountered, but I haven’t praised them as I should. In my mind, I felt, “If I don’t want to receive positive comments, why would I expect other people to want to receive them?” Furthermore, perhaps I’d be saving them from the same nightmare.

I’ve had to get better at receiving compliments. People have told me so! I’m getting better. I’ve also had to get better at giving compliments. But I’m still not perfect. I go for compliment-overkill sometimes. But in my mind, they are deserved and remain difficult to deliver. So if I compliment you, please believe it and cherish it!

Finding a home within MOGII groups

My feeder alerted me to an article from Inside Higher Ed about student groups that are embracing the inclusion of the asexual spectrum within their MOGII groups, often called LGBT groups or some derivative of that acronym.

While the article itself is a positive piece about including Ace people in such groups, the comments beneath the article display a common problem that asexuals face. There are some that are already within these groups (and outside) that resent the acknowledgement of additional sexual identities within the MOGII umbrella. The sentiment is one of dilution and diversion: that adding more letters (and thus more people) to the LGBT group (presumably) makes the group less of a minority.

Sadly, this sentiment permeates elsewhere, with the idea that acknowledging asexuality would open the floodgates. Unfortunately, it would appear that the politicians are equally hostile to the idea of acknowledging asexuality, lest they are approached by countless other MOGII groups. The status quo of ignorance and ambivalence would appear to be far more preferable.