Joanna Williamson

Joanna Williamson

Balliol Old Member

I work in academic publishing at Cambridge University Press. I love being surrounded by academic books and people all day, and I love working on projects that I think really matter – it’s important to me that the best-quality scholarship reaches the world.

After the MMath I completed a PGCE at Balliol too, and then moved to the University of Southampton, where I completed a PhD in young children’s representations of natural number concepts (psychology heavy!). I had a free choice of project and still can’t believe I got paid to talk about numbers, life and the universe with five-year-olds. At the same time, I worked as an editorial assistant for an academic journal, which proved an excellent step into publishing. There’s a huge amount of competition for entry-level publishing positions, but an STM background and longer-term – paid! – experience in publishing proved great advantages when I came to apply to Cambridge.

The most important thing the MMath gave me was intellectual confidence.

Quantitative and logical skills (especially basic coding) have obviously been extremely useful, and valued by employers, but I’d still say the most important skill has been a willingness to take on problems in the first place. As a rule of thumb, almost nothing in ‘real life’ is as difficult as maths finals, and this is very reassuring.

What I enjoyed about Balliol was the strong, intellectual community, and I think being in a large college with a popular MCR made a difference. I found truly great friends – not just my immediate cohort, but people of all ages and subjects. Having a good-sized group of maths students at Balliol was welcome, since we would share the pain/triumph of problem sheets together.

The Balliol maths Fellows and Lecturers managed to be wonderfully human as well as dazzling mathematicians, and this was also welcome. I finally have to add that I loved the strong societies at Balliol. The rowing club and choir were such lively teams of people – so much more than the sum of their parts. They became like second (and third) families.