Andrew Potter

Portrait: Andrew Potter
Current Workplace
The Open University
Current Role
Staff Tutor in Mathematics & Statistics, Deputy Associate Dean (Academic Excellence) in STEM
My Mathematics Success Story is...

As a young gay man, mathematics was, for me, a way to withdraw from the messy and chaotic world around me. But as I’ve gotten older and more confident in myself, I find that it connects me to people and the world around me in a way I never thought possible.

After completing my PhD in algorithmic number theory at the University of Bristol, I decided that mathematical research was not my passion. What excited me was being able to talk to and enthuse people about mathematics, and so I decided to pursue a teaching career in secondary schools. I loved working with young people and opening their eyes to the mathematics that exists beyond the textbook, but teaching was, at the time, a difficult environment to work in as an LGBT+ person. Well-meaning colleagues advised me to stay in the closet for my own safety, and I never felt I could give the best I had to offer whilst hiding my true identity.

With a heavy heart, I left secondary teaching and became an Associate Lecturer for the Open University, where I found a new home. I have always felt welcome amongst colleagues for who I am, and I am grateful for all of the supportive colleagues I have worked with. After having written off the possibility of an academic career after my PhD, I became a permanent member of the academic faculty in 2018. As a Staff Tutor, I support and manage Associate Lecturers and contribute to the distance teaching of mathematics modules for students from all walks of life. I was also thrilled to be able to continue inspiring young people about mathematics through outreach and external engagement.

I now serve as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead for the School of Mathematics & Statistics, and recently was appointed as Deputy Associate Dean (Academic Excellence) for the STEM Faculty. It is still bewildering to me how my identity as a gay man came to be seen as a strength to be celebrated, not a liability to be hidden. In both of these roles, I strive to improve representation, success and support for students and staff from historically (and currently) marginalised groups, including women, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, disabled people, and LGBT+ people.

Working in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Mathematics is challenging, but rewarding. The issues are complex and nuanced, and I am constantly educating myself, especially where I have no lived experience of my own to draw upon. However, having the experience of being told “your identity is not relevant to a career in mathematics” has made me all the more determined to celebrate diversity in all its forms, and has given me a firm belief that the best mathematics comes from people who can study and work as their authentic selves.

Alternative career paths