The Scottish Mathematical Sciences Training Centre (SMSTC) is one of six taught course centres in the mathematical sciences founded after the 2004 International Review of Mathematics highlighted the need for mathematical sciences PhD students to have a greater breadth and depth of knowledge of their subject.
SMSTC has provided a broad range of high-quality courses in core mathematics and statistics for first year PhD students since autumn 2007. The primary aim is to broaden students' mathematical perspective with the ultimate goal of bringing their experience into line with that offered in competitor countries and of making the recipient of a UK PhD in the mathematical sciences more competitive in the academic employment market. Course content has evolved in the light of staff and student evaluations.
SMSTC provides 16 core modules with 8 in each of 2 semesters. The material is taught live by videoconferencing in two 10-week semesters from October–December and January to March. Lectures are based on comprehensive printed notes and exercises, which are available to download from the module pages, and each module is assessed (typically by means of one or two take-home assignments). Participating departments have agreed to provide local tutorial support.
The modules are arranged into 2-semester streams, headed and coordinated by a Stream Leader. However, the individual modules are designed to be free-standing, so that students can do the just the 1st, just the 2nd or both in a stream and hence broaden their experience of different topic areas.
The SMSTC year begins round about 1st October with a 2 day residential symposium in Perth, where all the new PhD students from across Scotland meet one another as well as some of the lecturing staff for the courses. Full information about the courses is given, along with some generic skills training like "how to manage your supervisor" and "how to be a tutorial assistant". There is also plenty of time for networking and building connections for the future with colleagues across Scotland.
The number of courses each student is required to do is determined by their own department/school, but a typical beginning PhD student is normally expected to take 3 modules per semester, and spend about 75% of their time studying the course material during the first six months of their PhD programme.
A varying selection of supplementary modules is put on each year. These are often at a more advanced level than the core modules and are intended to reflect the interests and enthusiasms of staff.
SMSTC's first academic year began in October 2007, although a lot of work had already taken place by then in producing course material and setting up the original wiki website and video-conference equipment. The first EPSRC grant funded four cohorts of students (it ran until September 2011), and EPSRC provided extra funding for an equipment refresh in spring 2011. This high definition HD equipment (Cisco/Tandberg C40 codecs) has been used for SMSTC lectures since October 2011 and has proved to be very reliable. EPSRC provided follow-on funding for an additional five years (from October 2011 - September 2016), with the expectation that all the taught course centres should become self-sustaining after this time. Since October 2016, SMSTC has been funded by member departments.
A management review of the operation of SMSTC was carried out by the Management Consultants DTZ in the summer of 2010 on behalf of the EPSRC. A full academic review was carried out by an international panel in 2013.
SMSTC's management is undertaken by its Academic Steering and Management Group (ASMG). Its membership includes a Director, Deputy Director, a student representative, a technical officer, and other members so as to provide representation of all the participating institutions and across the main subject areas of the mathematical sciences in which training is provided.