Meeting with Dr. Paul Martin, Professor of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, one is immediately struck by his gray-flecked full beard and British accent. He has a unique philosophy and teaching style, which is a result of the time he has spent on both sides of the Atlantic. His experiences and habits make him a different kind of professor, but in the best way possible.
Martin’s journey to becoming a CSM math professor began in high school. He realized, “I was kind of good at mathematics in school, and so then I went to University.” He graduated with a bachelor’s in Mathematics from the University of Bristol, UK, in 1975. Before coming to Mines, Martin had been a student and professor at the University of Manchester for over 20 years, having received his master’s in 1976 and doctorate in 1980. He said, “I went there as a grad student and stayed.” His first experience with CSM came during a sabbatical year. Said Martin, “Some years later an opportunity came up to come here, and so, I came.” He began teaching at Mines in 1999, making the move from England with his three children. The transition was not too hard to make because, said Martin, “My kids had all lived here for a year, so they knew what it would be like.”
In making the move from England, Martin brought with him his own style of teaching. “In the British system,” he said, “It’s not usual to have textbooks. And so it’s usual to propagate information by ensuring that students get good sets of notes from the lectures. I’ve always thought about teaching in that way.” Students in his classes can attest to the textbook-like quality of his notes. Martin prefers to write in complete sentences while giving lectures, because, “Apart from teaching students a little bit about spelling and punctuation, it also slows you down a bit.” This technique prevents him from rushing ahead, and helps students to keep up with the lecture material.
Compared to when he was in England, Martin feels that he is a better teacher at Mines. He said, “In England I didn’t really have the chance to teach, because it was more like lecturing when in the big theaters. You really are only showing things.” The smaller class sizes at Mines make teaching more rewarding for him because, “You can understand where the students are having trouble, and you don’t get that so much in a big class.” Martin added, “I think here, I actually try to teach things to some students.”
Martin does not have much free time when he is not working, but he likes to use it spending time with his grown children when he can and doing family things. “I’m not a typical person in Colorado, in that I’m not interested in anything to do with the outdoors,” he said, “I mean I like to look at it and things, but I’m not an active person. I never do any exercise for example.”
His advice for students is to, “Try and get fluent in mathematics. When you’re struggling with engineering, you can focus on that and not worry about the math.” Martin described his life as one in which he, “almost always tried to never make any decisions,” and if this is the case, then he did not choose the path to Mines, but rather, the path chose him.