AlumniChris Smith MBE

Courses studied: BSc (Hons) Mathematics (2003) and PGDE Secondary Education (2006)

Position at time of writing: Maths teacher at Grange Academy, Kilmarnock

Interesting fact: Chris and his family (wife Elaine and children Daisy, Heidi and Logan) were winners of the 2019 BBC show ‘Family Brain Games’, hosted by Dara O’Briain

Tell us about your background

I'm from Newmilns, a wee town in East Ayrshire – it's where I was brought up and still live. After Newmilns Primary I headed off to Loudoun Academy. I began to really love Maths around this time but the clincher was when Sir Andrew Wiles announced his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. After centuries of struggle, this massive breakthrough happened while I was still at school and so I decided it had to be Maths for me.

Strathclyde Maths Department was an inspirational place to study with so many brilliant researchers and some stunning teachers. I left with a first-class degree but much more –  I had a real sense of the relevance of Maths and how it could explain the world we live in. Strathclyde lived up to its motto: The place of useful learning!"

What is the best part of your job?

Working with young people is something special. Of course teenagers can be challenging. Of course they can be moody. But working with pupils is an overwhelmingly fun and rewarding experience. Whether it's singing Mathsy songs in class, organising Maths Camp for over 100 pupils or unleashing geeky puzzles, it's the pupils' growing excitement for the subject that makes it worth it. Talking about a subject I love with smashing young people day in, day out, is a real joy! Our antics every year on PiDay are legendary. One of my all-time favourites is our musical tribute to the mathematical constant.

My top 3 Strathlife moments

  • Heading out to Cluj with a team from the Strathclyde Christian Union to build houses for homeless Romanians – an unforgettable experience
  • Forming our ceilidh band, ‘Jiggered’, with fellow Strathclyders. We're still gigging most weekends 17 years later!
  • Being invited back to give the 2018 Strathclyde Maths and Stats Annual Lecture. It really was an honour to speak at this the year after one of my Strathclyde heroes, Prof Adam McBride OBE, spoke at the inaugural one

What has been your most memorable moment from your career so far?

Chris Smith, Strathclyde alumnus and Maths teacher with school pupils

In 2018, I won ‘Scottish Teacher of the Year’ at the Scottish Education Awards. This was an incredible moment and reminded me that I'm blessed with supportive colleagues, wise mentors, enthusiastic pupils and a loving family without whom this would never have been possible.

Of course, as a Maths geek I highjacked the awards ceremony to talk about numbers and even wheeled out an enormous bar chart - check out the video!

What one piece of advice would you give to current students?

Get involved in a club, it'll add to your university experience. Some of my best friends were guys I met in the Strathclyde Christian Union.