I initially applied to the Laidlaw scheme due to its ability to allow me to undertake research unlike the more industrial placements I had also applied to. After being accepted onto the scheme I talked to some people in my hall that were in the next year of the scheme about their experiences with it. They talked about how much fun they had with their summer and how they were looking forward to their next summer. Their experiences revised my expectations of the scheme as I was initially sceptical of the fun and sense of community outlined in the pre application meetings yet it seemed to hold true.
My first proper experience of the Laidlaw scheme was with our leadership weekend at Hospitalfield. This weekend started with my cohort of scholars meeting at a bus stop on the edge of St Andrews. Many of us knew other people on the scheme either from courses or general uni life however, we had never really spent more than a few hours as a group. The only thing we knew about where we were going was that it was going to be cold. We all got onto a bus curious as to where we’d be spending our weekend. The bus ride was interesting as this weekend away coincided with the worsening of the Coronavirus pandemic in Europe and the first cases were beginning to appear in the UK. This was the topic of conversation for most of us; an interesting dark juxtaposition with the rare sunny day and beautiful coastal scenery of Fife.
When we arrived at Hospitalfields I was taken aback by an old and beautiful building at the edge of a town overlooking the sea, a very unexpected venue for a weekend of leadership training. Guest speakers were brought in to give talks. The history of the house was explained to us and used to inform the discussions we had there. While this part of the weekend was very interesting to me, the part of the weekend which I found most interesting - and caused me to have the greatest amount of reflection - were the conversations that I had with the other scholars. Hearing other peoples’ vastly different takeaways from the same talk that we shared were fascinating and allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding of the materials and leadership methods presented to us. This weekend made me realise what those in the year above meant about the scheme. Everyone that was there for the weekend was open and kind, all discussions were undertaken with a wholehearted good nature; a very unexpected but delightful change. This weekend also clarified to me what the scheme means when it talks about leadership. Initially I was concerned that there would be an attempt to mold or persuade us to think a certain way, but the reality of the situation was we were presented with ideas and allowed to discuss them as a group, drawing our own learnings from what was presented to us.
The scheme was forced to shift to remote contact as a result of Coronavirus. Fortunately this change has not affected me as greatly as it has many of the other scholars as my project is in pure and computational mathematics and as such results in me sitting in front of a computer most of the day.
The title and scope of my project has changed markedly from what I had originally thought it to be on the way into this summer. My supervisor, who helped me to define the project earlier in the year, had contacted a colleague who was more knowledgeable on the proposed language used. They advised that it would take a considerable amount of time to complete the proposed scope; much longer than the five weeks I have this summer. Therefore my supervisor and I had to quickly redefine my project at the start of this summer. We settled on a project scope that involved extending a result for semigroup singular and idempotent rank from transformation monoid to more general types of monoid and the implementation of these results into code. This shift in research topic has been somewhat of a challenge to me as I have yet to study semigroups in my academic career and the proof which I have set about generalising makes use of graph theory, which is a topic I haven’t covered since my A-levels. These two issues have resulted in me having to undertake considerable background reading.
Throughout the course of this summer my experience has been that self leadership has been deployed more than the leading of others. My project has involved me having to learn two new coding languages, a markup language as well as a new file management service. Learning these whilst not placing too much of a burden on my supervisor has been an interesting balancing act to try and find a sensible use of both of our times. Fortunately however, my supervisor has continued running a weekly coding group into the summer. In this group it seems that using Microsoft Windows as an operating system is a novelty and so I have been lucky enough to practice my leadership and communication skills in helping the two other members of this group set up their machines with two of the languages.
The remote nature of this summer's Laidlaw scheme has meant I haven't quite felt the same sense of community which the previous years have described. With the current heat wave in the UK I am very jealous of the barbequeces which they told me about. The other scholars, however, have been invaluable in providing a sense of community, either with talking in the group chat, or through trying to persuade me that aphids are ghosts while we waited for a group member during one of our action learning sets.
Looking forward at my time left with the scheme this summer, the forthcoming talk on ethical leadership (which takes place on the day of me posting this blog) is my most anticipated talk of the scheme yet. When at Hospitalfields most of my cohort’s debates were around the ethics and semantics of leadership. I am keen to hear how opinions may have changed and what people who are more learned in that field of ethics than ourselves have to say.
Participating in the Laidlaw scheme this summer has distilled two things for me. Firstly, that having completed four weeks of my research to date I have enjoyed this work far more than my other studies. This leads me to conclude that a career in academia is now the only path that I can see in my future and I shall pursue this with a new found fervor. Secondly, as helpful and enlightening as both discussion and theory can be, little can compare to having to use these skills to try and affect actual change.