Will Maths Save Us All?

Who’s a mentor, math genius and surf life saver? No it’s not some kind of superhero, it’s Max Anderson Loake, Australia’s newest Rhodes Scholar. He stopped by the Particle Podcast to chat about using big data to solve big problems like climate change and natural disasters.

Particle Podcast is about science and the people who just love it. It’s produced and presented by Rose Kerr (@rosie.zkerr). Particle is powered by Scitech, and you can tell us which cereal box you would be on @ParticleWA on Twitter and Instagram.

Recorded at RAWR Chai.

Recorded at RAWR Chai.


Will Maths Save Us All?

  • Host: Rose Kerr
  • Guest: Max Anderson Loake

Rose Kerr – Particle would like to acknowledge and pay respects to the traditional owners of the land we record on the Whadjuk people. We also acknowledge the role of Aboriginal people as the first scientists in Australia.

**Cue music (intro theme)

Rose Kerr – Welcome to the Particle Podcast where we talk about science and the people who just love it. I’m your host Rose Kerr. And this season, we’re deep diving on the environment. Today, I’m joined by Max Anderson Loake, Rhodes Scholar for 2020 who’s using big data to solve big problems. He stopped by to chat about honestly, so many different things, but also about how he would love to be a Nutri-Grain spokesperson. So Nutri-Grain, if you’re listening, we’ve got someone for you. Welcome to the podcast, Max.

Max Anderson Loake – Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Rose Kerr – To start off, I promise, this is hopefully kind of an easy question. What do you do?

Max Anderson Loake – Okay, so I’m just currently wrapping up my Honours in mathematics and statistics at the University of Western Australia. This year, my Honours has involved modeling wind measurements on Australia’s North West Shelf. So Australia’s North West Shelf is a pretty economically significant region, it accounts for more than one third of the nation’s oil and gas production. And as you can imagine, the offshore environment can be pretty volatile. And so basically, I’ve been looking at the forecasts of the wind measurements, if they have any biases, and how can we correct those biases and estimate the associated uncertainty? So that’s kind of what I’ve been doing my Honours on this year, using statistics.

Rose Kerr – Yeah, so the maths part of it does just come through with statistics. That’s interesting. Do you find that maths as a subject, does it feel like it’s opened you up to lots of opportunities? Or does it feel quite like specific?

Max Anderson Loake – No, I absolutely feel like maths has opened me up to many, many opportunities. Everything in the world has maths at its core in my opinion, I see maps in everything I do. And even looking at the different projects that different Honours students have been doing in my cohort, there are some who are looking at university results in maths anxiety, other people who are looking at sports, other people are looking at ocean density. So there’s a huge range of different avenues that you can go down.

Rose Kerr – Because maths at school is a little bit nerdy, it’s a little bit I don’t know, it can be seen as a difficult subject to take. Why did you pick to do philosophy and maths? Two subjects that are seen as very challenging subjects.

Max Anderson Loake – Yes. So I’m doing the Bachelor of Philosophy at UWA and contrary to the name, it doesn’t actually involve the study of philosophy. So Bachelor Philosophy is essentially the same as just doing a Bachelor of Science, except it includes the Honours year at UWA and a slightly greater focus on research throughout. But for me, I, yeah, I loved maths the whole way through school, I was really lucky to have some incredible maths teachers the whole way through who exposed me to the different applications that maths have. I can remember in Year six, we would have double period maths on a Thursday. And we’d always do some kind of project and an experiment that would analyze using maths. So for example, one we had was with shoot soccer balls that throw goalposts from different angles, and we’d look at how our percentage hit rate change from different angles. And I think doing things like that, throughout early years really expose me to how cool maths is and how applicable it is. And so I’ve been really lucky to have that, because it’s always been something that’s really appealed to me, and it kind of made sense just for me to continue on into university.

**Cue music

Rose Kerr – When you left school, do you think you would have guessed where you’re at now?

Max Anderson Loake – No, definitely not. I don’t think. Leaving school, I knew I wanted to do maths as my first major I think. My second major had no idea what I wanted to do. And I kind of left my doors open to doing psychology, neuroscience, even medicine, I took a lot of kind of broader units in first year just to leave my options open because I really had no idea what it was that I wanted to study. And UWA is really good for that because you can choose those different units and then choose actually select your major a little bit later on. But I had really very little idea about the different opportunities maths could open up I didn’t know whether I wanted to do pure applied or stats and I’ve ended up doing stats that yeah, I had very little idea about where I wanted to actually go. I’m not I’m not very much a long term thinker. I like to think in the moment and the opportunities that are coming up immediately. I’m not a five year 10 year goals sort of person typically.

Rose Kerr – That’s fine. It’s a bit hard to do anyway. Was uni what you expected?

Max Anderson Loake – Hmm, I think well definitely not. In that, it’s so much more social club based all the different opportunities that uni has, like I had no idea that there’s a Quidditch club. I had no idea how many cafes there were, how huge it was, all that sort of side that the incredible social side that comes along with uni. I think one misconception I might have had, and this is fully different to what most people would say was that uni was actually a bit harder than I expected. I can remember in school people always said to me, “uni’s such a breeze once you get through school.” But I actually found it’s, it’s been probably still a little bit less stressful than school, but it’s still a pretty heavy workload.

Rose Kerr – Yeah. And it’s good to point out because I agree, I heard that at school, where they were I like “oh it is nothing compared to Year 12.” It makes you feel bad when it gets hard. It can be really challenging.

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, especially when everything comes up at the same time and you have assignments due and exams coming up and they don’t they don’t really schedule it the way school does. School is pretty good at knowing when you have heaps on and kind of the different teachers liase and try to balance it, but I had definitely haven’t found that at uni.

**Cue music

Rose Kerr – Having read a little bit of a media release abot you Max, I do know that you have a lot of kind of out of uni commitments. Could you walk us through a few of those?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, absolutely. So my first one is probably surf club. So I’m a member of the City of Perth Surf Lifesaving Club, which is the surf club down at City Beach. I’m a patrol captain. So that’s voluntary patrols over the summer. And then also through that I do Surf Iron Man. So Surf Iron Man, it’s kind of like a triathlon. But like I said, surf version. So there’s swimming, like board paddling, like the boards, they paddle on Bondi Rescue kinda. And then also ski paddling, which is kind of like kayaking, but on a surf ski. And the training for that is pretty intense. I swim five mornings a week, and then I’m at the beach, pretty much every afternoon training as well. So it’s normally 11 or 12 sessions a week. So it’s quite intense. And sometimes that can be hard to balance around uni. But also, I find it really good because when I need a break from my uni work, there’s nothing better than going out in the waves and getting absolutely dumped. It’s a pretty good refresher, and it takes your mind off things.

Rose Kerr – Yeah, that’s true.

Max Anderson Loake – So I really love that. And then the other kind of main commitment that I have is that I’m involved in an organization called Ignite Mentoring. So it’s an organization that works with students from lower socio economic schools. And we basically run mentoring programs. And I’ve been a mentor and coordinator there for the last like three and a half years. And the last couple years, I’ve also been on the executive. So kind of that’s the main club that I’ve been involved in at uni. So it’s really great socially, I’ve met some awesome people through it. I’ve obviously got to have an impact on the students, which I’ve really loved and also developed a lot of skills through being involved I’d say.

Rose Kerr – I have so many questions of both of those things. But I guess my first one is just that. We talked about how uni is really social and sometimes uni is really hard. How do you just actually have time to do it all?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, I would say the first thing is compartmentalising. When I’m studying, I try to study really hard. When I’m training I try to train really hard. When I’m when I’m with friends, I really try to decompress and enjoy my time with them. And so I find that that helps me stay on track with uni. I think there’s only so many hours in a day you can study before you get less productive. And so I try to make the most of those hours. And then when I have my other things, then I’m trying to make the most of that time as well. I would say that I also like to try and stay as organized as I can. It can be hard to juggle a lot of things especially work as well. So staying organized helps me balance those things. The elite athlete program at UWA has also been really helpful in supporting me through training hard and having competition sometimes in WA, sometimes over east.

Rose Kerr – Wow. Is it something that you’ve always been like, since you’re a kid, like, always done lots of different academic and sport related things?

Max Anderson Loake – I did swimming through school. I played violin at school, but I was absolutely useless. I would say I’ve been involved in surf club for a long time. So I started nippers in under seven. And probably since Year 8, I have been training at that sort of level 11 or 12 times a week. Yeah. And so even during Year 12, I was balancing that training with my workload. And I was also doing debating in Year 12, as well. So I’m pretty used to having juggling a few balls at once. And I think now it’s the norm I find that I’m much more productive. And also much happier when I’m busy than when I am on holiday. Just not really knowing what to do with myself.

Rose Kerr – Yeah. All of those things you’ve achieved quite highly in. Is that something that…Do you consider yourself like a high achiever? Or is this just you kind of being like, ‘no, this is my life,’ like, how does it…Because I’m sure people say, ‘Wow, you’re really good at these things!’ like, how is that reflected in yourself?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, I would say academically has come quite naturally to me. Sports, I would never say I’m a natural high achiever, though. I insist once I’m competing against a lot of people who have been surfing since the time they were toddlers. And I was born in the UK, so and moved here a little bit later. And so I don’t really have the same set of skills, as a lot of those people. So I’d say that’s not something that comes super naturally to me. And so I wouldn’t say I’m a natural high achiever in the sports department. But I’d say I’m very disciplined. And when I set my mind to something, and I have a goal, I’ll try to work hard towards that.

Rose Kerr – Is your family also academically minded?

Max Anderson Loake – I’d say somewhat. My brother initially sat an engineering degree. And then he went on and did sports science. And now he’s actually the general manager at the surf club. So we’re all like, the surf club’s kind of a family affair because dad manages the a lot of the gear and the equipment. Mum manages the patrols and the beach operations. My brother’s General Manager, and I’m kind of there, probably the least involved actually. So yeah, my brother is very much the opposite of me, I’d say and that he’s very much a kind of go with the flow person. He’s incredibly social. And people absolutely love spending time with him. He’s a really, really cool person, like so social. Probably not as academically focused as I am just because he loves his people and spending time with people and I don’t think he can stay holed up in a room studying all day. My dad is a geophysicist, so quite science based as well. And mum is a personal trainer, so I guess I’ve kind of got the science and the sporty side from mum and dad.

Rose Kerr – There was no escaping it.

Max Anderson Loake – (laughs) No, I don’t think so. Yeah, I’d say my never my family never really pushed me hard down the academic side. I was always quite… I can remember. They always were very much more into the active side. So they’d take us bike riding and walking up hills and all that sort of thing in the UK. Academics was something that I kind of found myself and really dove into, on my own accord I’d say.

Rose Kerr – That’s interesting. I love that like the idea of this little kid who’s like “No, I just really like math. No one told me I had to do it. I just want to do it.”

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, my family kind of had this in-joke about any time one of us has success or like we do something well, we always say it’s because mum and dad got us on a bicycle at two months old or something. (laughs) Mum and dad think that because they got us on a bicycle so early, that’s why we are okay at sports.

**Cue music.

Rose Kerr – I’d love to know a bit more about the Ignite Mentoring. How does the program work? What actually happens within the program?

Max Anderson Loake – So, each semester. So we run in semesters, because most of our mentors are university students, we run a nine week program. So we go out to a school for one hour a week and just work with the students through a range of activities. So this most recent semester I’ve been at Balga Senior High School. And I’ve been working with some students who are English as a second language, ESL. And basically, we spend the one hour a week with them do activities to try and encourage them to feel more confident speaking English with us. And so we play games with them, we chat to them all kinds of things, it was actually really tough at the start, because there’s kind of a big cultural gap that we quite weren’t prepared for. We talked about Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande and that sort of thing. And normally, when we talk about that with students, they’re straight on to it. And it’s really easy to start a conversation, but it’s a little bit more challenging. And they kind of looked blankly back at us. But yeah, over the course of the semester, we’ve really seen an increase in that confidence. And by the end, we had them speaking up in front of the class presenting, giving little stories for the class. So it’s a really rewarding experience. I’ve loved being involved in it. One of the main things that I’ve found is that the kids are so creative, intelligent, hilarious, and a lot of them don’t really realize that. I think one of our main roles is just to go in to the classroom and remind them of that and have that kind of cheerleader in their corner, even if it’s just once a week.

Rose Kerr – Yeah, that is so lovely. It’s interesting to see a program that is devoted to like confidence because it’s not something that you kind of go like, ‘oh kids need to be good at school, maybe they need to be good at like learning music’ or whatever it is. What was the role in, like having confidence when you were at school was that something were you a confident kid? Was that something you saw as being important? Looking back?

Max Anderson Loake – I think I went through waves of being really confident or sometimes having a little bit of self doubt. But I was very lucky in that I always had an incredible support system around me. So both the school or family and friends, and if I was feeling a little bit down, they would always be there to support me and have my back and say, “if you work hard, and you get back up, then you’ll be able to achieve it.” I think a lot of the students at these schools often don’t have that. And so that’s why it can be more challenging for them to kind of bounce back from those challenges that they face at school.

Rose Kerr – Yeah. And would you say that those kind of skills in being confident and knowing yourself, will be .. what are you hoping they get out of it in the long run?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, absolutely. So that kind of the way Ignite formed is that our founder, nine years ago, she was trying to tutor the students at Balga. Basically teaching them English and found that the problem wasn’t with their vocabulary or their knowledge of the subject, but it was actually in their confidence. And so she says, she shifted the focus from the tutoring to more the confidence side and having the soft skills and the confidence in your own soft skills. So your public speaking your communication, your teamwork, because if you believe in yourself in those skills, then you can go and apply them to everything and any academic subject. So kinda, yeah, helping them develop the confidence that they can apply those things to everything they set their mind out into the future, rather than just focusing on a specific subject.

**Cue music

Rose Kerr – You’re just wrapping up your Honours year, writing a thesis, it can be really tough. How did you find writing your Honours thesis?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, I found it pretty huge. My thesis has definitely been my baby this year. I had to miss a few things with friends just in the library working on it. Through semester one, I kind of plodded along, not really expecting how much work it was actually going to be.

Rose Kerr – Yeah.

Max Anderson Loake – And then at the start of semester two, when I actually started writing it up, and I had this 75 page document to create that I hadn’t started yet plus units at uni. It got quite overwhelming for a little bit there. So I had to work really hard over that time. But I was very lucky to have two really incredible supervisors, Edward Crips, who’s at the statistics department at UWA, and Lachlan who’s at the University of Leeds. And they really helped me through that time. I think this year was especially tough, because at the start of the year, we were in lockdown. So I couldn’t actually meet with my supervisors. So there were times where we were over Zoom. And they were writing maths equations down on paper, and then holding it up to the camera, trying to hold it steady, so that I could read what I needed to be doing. So that was a little bit tricky. But luckily, things opened up and we were able to meet in person again and get through it.

Rose Kerr – One of the questions one of our Particle team members wanted to know was kind of how did you go mental health wise? Did you feel like your brain just kind of went to mush in any time? Or were you able to just stay clear headed?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, no, it was definitely a tough time, because training shut down as well. So I kind of had to start everything back up and find a new kind of support system. So I try and go for a run most mornings just to keep myself healthy. I did a bit of yoga with mum. And I also set up some Zoom sessions with my friends where we do some Zumba online together. And that was really fun and just tried to do things like that to try and keep me in a good headspace. I was lucky in that I found it didn’t affect my uni productivity too much. My supervisors really helped me push through it had a really good cohort and we all kind of stuck together through that time to help motivate ourselves through the uni work during that time.

**Cue music.

Rose Kerr – So you are the newest Rhodes Scholar unless there’s been a sneaky sneaky one in the last few weeks. Could you explain what that actually means?

Max Anderson Loake – Okay, so basically a Rhodes Scholarship is a scholarship to go and study at the University of Oxford for two or three years.

**Cue music

Rose Kerr – Bonus fun fact, the Rhodes Scholarship, the International postgraduate award that Max has been talking about was established way back in 1902. And that means in 2022, it will be the 100 year anniversary. Some famous Rhodes Scholarship winners, you might remember are Malcolm Turnbull and the late Bob Hawke.

Max Anderson Loake – So it’s open to people who have completed an Honours or a Master’s, or even a PhD to go and study at Oxford. Basically, it’s looking for people who I think are not only academically strong, but also have been involved in either sports or arts performance or something like that, and also committed to the community. So looking through the bios of the people who have been selected, it’s pretty inspiring to see all the amazing things that they’ve done in addition to their studies. And I think that’s kind of what the selection panel looked for.

Rose Kerr – Was it a surprise to win, or did you think “Yeah, I’ve got this”?

Max Anderson Loake – No, absolutely huge surprise. During the application process I was kind of in the headspace that it would be amazing if I got it. But the likelihood was that I probably wouldn’t be. So I just tried to enjoy it and get the most out of the time with the selection panel and just try to treat it like interesting conversations that I was having with them. So yeah, a huge surprise. Even looking through the bios of the other people who’ve been selected from other states, I find it really in quite intimidating. And I almost feel like a bit of a fraud being up there. So it’s a very cool group to be a part of, but definitely surprising.

Rose Kerr – When you get over to Oxford, what’s the expectation for what you will study? Is there is it open to anything?

Max Anderson Loake – So at the moment, I think there’s still a little bit of flexibility. What I want to study is a DPhil, which I think is what Oxford called their PhDs in modern statistics and statistical machine learning.

Rose Kerr – That’s pretty cool.

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, I think it’d be very, very cool. Because I think the first year you get exposed to a couple of mini projects where you get to work along side supervisors. And then the next three years you do your PhD project. I think what’s really cool about the course is that it’s very applied in that there’s a lot of industry partners, and you’re using maths to solve real world problems, which is what I really want to be doing with my career.

Rose Kerr – How do you feel about moving over to England?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, it’ll be hard. I’ll definitely miss my family, friends. And also the beach. And my two cats. Yeah, it’ll be tough.

Rose Kerr – That’s a different lifestyle altogether.

Max Anderson Loake – Absolutely. I think I’m gonna have to take up rowing.

Rose Kerr – Yes.

Max Anderson Loake – I think that’d be really cool. My brother rows surf boats, so I’m gonna try get him to get me in one for a little bit of practice before I head over. But yeah, gonna miss a lot of things about Perth. But it’s also incredibly exciting. And I think there’s gonna be some amazing things at Oxford that’ll absolutely make up for it.

Rose Kerr – Oh it’ll be a huge adventure. And you’ll feel like you’re in the movies.

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah. I’m just so excited to go to those sit exams in my robes, and then go for the college dinners and all that sort of thing. It’ll be amazing.

Rose Kerr – Yeah. Do they put you in contact with like, other Rhodes Scholars that are around at the time or?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, I think so I think what’s really special about the Rhodes Scholarship is the network. So I think over the next year, we’re going to be doing some Zooms with Zoom coffee catch ups with the other scholars of this year. And I think we’ll also be catching up once we get over there. But also the previous scholars who are currently at Oxford and also moved on, I’ve already got a couple of emails from people over there who think it’d be cool to catch up and chat about research and that sort of thing.

Rose Kerr – How does it feel to win an award that’s regarded as being just so prestigious?

Max Anderson Loake – It feels very surreal, and it still hasn’t really sunk in. The last probably week and a half has been a bit of a whirlwind. I’m just now I think I’m just going to try and treat it as this incredible opportunity to go and study at Oxford. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself that I have this scholarship and I have to, you know, make everybody the most, you know, do the most incredible things. I just want to go study work hard and kind of pursue what my goals were beforehand. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, I think. But yeah, it has been incredibly surreal and a really cool experience.

**Cue music.

Rose Kerr – Keeping in mind that you said you weren’t someone who creates long term plans. Do you know what you’re hoping to get out of the DPhil?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah. So what I’m really interested in is how we can use statistics or data analysis or statistical modeling, to kind of solve real world problems. One of them that I’d really like to look at is disaster response and recovery. So I’ve seen a lot of examples of how we can use use statistical modeling in response to natural disasters. So for example, during the bush fires earlier this year CSIRO developed some models that allowed us to predict the spread of the bush fires based on kind of vegetation, terrain, climate, weather forecasts, all that sort of thing to kind of predict where the fires were going to go so that they could then plan their responses. Something that’s happened at the University of Oxford kind of recently, or over the last few years, they’ve been looking at machine learning and how we can use that. So one example is that during Hurricane Dorian, they had satellite images of before and after the disaster took place. And so basically, they crowd sourced people to compare the images and identify where the biggest impact would be, and that they use machine learning so the computers could learn from the people, interpret and see where the impacted occurred. So that over time, it got faster and faster as the computers learned how to do that. And then they use that to generate heat maps of where the most responses needed, and then use that for governments and also response agencies. So I think that sort of thing about how we can use data and statistical modeling in those real world scenarios. I think that’d be something that I’d love to be a part of.

Rose Kerr – Yeah, that’s absolutely fascinating. I had no idea that that was a thing that existed, does that kind of tie a little bit back into then what you’re doing in Honours? How you’re looking at wind and stuff? Because that’s also using data with the environment?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s definitely similar statistical skills that you’re using. I think a lot of it is Bayesian statistics, and how we can use that and associated uncertainty in these situations. And I think I’m just trying to build up that toolkit and that knowledge so that then I can go over and apply it to different problems.

Rose Kerr – Yeah. Do you like that idea of working in kind of a multidisciplinary science topic?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, absolutely. Something that definitely appealed to me about maths, in addition to the other things I’ve talked about earlier, is that I never really knew exactly what it was that I wanted to study for my whole life or investigate for my whole life. So the amazing thing about maths is that I can use it and apply it to a range of different scenarios. So maybe I could spend a portion of my life using maths for natural disasters. And then I could go on and look at education or different areas, kind of and see where my career takes me. And I think cross disciplinary is also really cool because you get to work with a bunch of different people. And I really like working with other people because you learn so much from them. And it’s also just a good time.

**Cue music

Rose Kerr – Let’s jump across to some of our questionable questions from the Particle team. Did you get anything fun from your scholarship? Like, is there a secret club? Do you get like a ring? Is there a Facebook group for Rhodes Scholars? Or do you get to talk to ex-PMs?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, there’s a there’s been a few cool things. So there’s this Rhodes Connect kind of platform online, which we’re all on. And I think the idea is that we can kind of chat and network through that. I’m not sure how many of the old scholars are on it currently. So I haven’t made use of that yet. At the presentation, Kim, the Honorable Kim Beazley was there. And he gave me a Governor’s coin, which I don’t know what that means or what it is, but I thought that was quite cool.

Rose Kerr – Does it look like a coin?

Max Anderson Loake – It just looks like a coin. And it says it’s a Governor’s coin or something. So that was very cool. And I’ve got that stashed in my cupboard for safekeeping. Yeah, I think that’s the extent of the secret exciting stuff. There’s nothing, nothing super amazing. Yeah.

Rose Kerr – Nah coin and a group that’ll that’s good. Do you have a favourite equation?

Max Anderson Loake – A favourite equation, I think is a bit of a stretch. Um, the equation that I probably like the most is probably Bayes’ rule. So statistics, has kind of two main schools of thought. There’s the Frequentist school of thought, which is kind of the way that most of us are taught through school and also early uni. And then there’s also the Bayesian school of thought. And so this, my Honours project has mostly been using Bayesian statistics and that’s kind of underpinned by Bayes’ rule.

Rose Kerr – Okay.

Max Anderson Loake – And so, Bayes’ rule or Bayes’ theorem is probably my favourite equation, because I’ve used it quite a lot in my Honours project this year.

Rose Kerr – Yeah. Good. All right. I’m surprised not traumatized by it. But I’ve,

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, a few weeks ago, probably would have been but I’m slowly recovering now.

Rose Kerr – Okay. Will you be our next Prime Minister?

Max Anderson Loake – Um definitely not. I don’t think politics is something that hugely appeals to me. I definitely say that maths and stats is where my head’s at now and where I want to be in the near future. As I said, I don’t think that far ahead, but I definitely don’t think politics is my thing.

Rose Kerr – If you were ever gonna take a guess you’d say probably not. You’ve competed in some quite big competitions for your, I guess we’ll call it like it was like an Ironman competition?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah.

Rose Kerr – What is the hardest section to do?

Max Anderson Loake – It’s different for everybody. For me, the hardest part is the board probably. I’m not particularly strong on a board and I can find it quite challenging. A few years ago, in 2018, I competed in the Coolangatta Gold, which is like quite a long event that’s held on the Gold Coast. And so it starts off with the long ski paddle, and then it runs. It’s a 42 k event, took about a four and a half hours for me to finish. And the board was quite near the end, and I was pedaling along the board, and I had this coke bottle strapped to the front of the board so that I could take sips on it through a straw while I was paddling. And I tried to take sips through it and I’d get water up my nose and I couldn’t breathe when I was trying to drink from it. So I was just paddling on this board in the middle of the ocean. Next to absolutely nowhere. Nobody and I think had a little cry during that board paddle all out there on my own trying to drink but not being able to. It’s just horrific. But yeah, I’d say the board is the hardest part for me.

Rose Kerr – Alternatively, what is your favorite section?

Max Anderson Loake – My favorite section’s probably the swim. Just because it’s my strongest. I grew up swimming. So it’s probably where I’m most comfortable.

Rose Kerr – Do you ever think about maths while you’re swimming?

Max Anderson Loake – Sometimes I’ll think about my…this year particularly I think about my Honours project and think about how I could structure sentences if I was really stuck on something or that sort of thing. Not so much maths. I can remember in school, I would recite lit essays and French, my little French for the oral exam. I can remember reciting them in my head in the swimming pool. But I think maths to do any real productive maths in the swimming pool. I think I’d need to focus on it a lot. I think it gets a bit hard when you’re up and down and trying to count laps as well.

Rose Kerr – Would you ever do an ad for Nutri-Grain or Weetbix?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, absolutely. That would be a lifelong goal for me. I would love more than anything. Yeah, it’d be really cool to be on an ad for Weetbix or Nutri-Grain. I don’t think that’s where my career pathway is taking me. But I used to really look up to those Iron Men who were on those ads. I can remember when I think it was Caine Eckstein did Dancing with the Stars. And I’ve always said I wanted to try becoming a Nutri-Grain athlete, just so that I could go on Dancing with the Stars and learn how to dance. That’s always been my career goal, but it’s not looking like it’s gonna happen.

Rose Kerr – I’d love to be on Dancing with the Stars one day.

**Cue music

Rose Kerr – Thinking about, say climate change, for example, where do you see maths fitting in with the problem solving around that?

Max Anderson Loake – I think maths and big data as well play a huge role in how we kind of identify and also tackle climate change. Just on the first part, a lot of the climate change was of physical models about what’s happening to the environment, but we need a lot of maths to kind of interpolate them and also kind of predict their uncertainty. But also, I think math is gonna play a huge role in tackling that a lot of the events that come up and the changing environment and the impacts on species and basically everything. I think we’re going to need to use maths.

Rose Kerr – And try to model in order to guess what’s gonna happen.

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, exactly.

Rose Kerr – Yeah. As a young person, do you feel like your generation are listened to? Kind of in a broader, I guess, society sense because you’re looking to solve problems?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah.

Rose Kerr – Do you feel like in the world of academia, young people are listened to and they’re like, ‘I think we could try this out,’ or is it kind of just go to the oldies and you’ve got to kind of just follow in line?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, that’s a really good question. I haven’t given it a lot of thought. And it’s, it’s never something that I’ve particularly identified with during my time. I guess being an Honours student, I don’t think I really have the experience to be fully respected yet. But I think in wider society, perhaps not so much. I think we’re seeing a lot of groundswell from younger people saying, ‘we really need to be acting on climate change. There’s things that really need to change.’ And I think that’s not really being heard by government. So in that regard, I definitely say that young, young people aren’t necessarily having their voice heard. But I think the tide is slowly changing, hopefully,

Rose Kerr – If we would have forced you to look forward in your career.

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah.

Rose Kerr – So probably purely hypothetically, in which case, if you could solve a type of problem or a particular problem, what would you like to solve? Or is there a particular area that you go “Ooh, I’d really like to get stuck into that, as a topic.”

Max Anderson Loake – Look beyond the kind of climate area that I’ve just been discussing, and also natural disaster response recovery, because that would be huge if I could make an impact in there. Possibly another area would be educational inequality. In my work with Ignite Mentoring, that’s something that my eyes have really been open to. And if we could use some kind of statistical modeling tool to identify which students are going to struggle before they actually start struggling, and target specific support to them. I think some kind of system I don’t know if it’s feasible, but I think something like that would just be incredible, and really important to society.

Rose Kerr – Who do you look up to slash who inspires you?

Max Anderson Loake – I would have to say beyond my family, obviously, and my parents, I very much look up to them. I would definitely say my supervisors at UWA. One of my supervisors this year for my Honours project, Edward Crips. He’s very much the antithesis of what you would expect from kind of a mathematician, you always think of them as being somebody who’s kind of locked up in their room all day, kind of like Russian or German and very anti sociable, but he’s just the absolute coolest guy. He’s, he seems to always be surfing, just finished surfing or something. He works really hard. He’s incredibly intelligent, but also very generous with his time. And he’s helped me out a huge amount this year. So I would say that he’s somebody that I’ve looked up to, and I’m really grateful to have had him as a mentor this year.

Rose Kerr – What motivates you to keep going?

Max Anderson Loake – I’m, in terms of my study, I’m very much motivated by what’s going on out in the world. We see a lot of pretty tough things going on, whether that be educational inequality, climate change, air pollution, political division, all kinds of things that it can, can sometimes be quite upsetting looking out there. And so I’d love to in my career, be able to even make a small change in one of those areas. I think that’s probably what keeps me motivated. The thought that maybe I’d be able to do something to make a small difference.

Rose Kerr – What role or responsibility do think scientists or you know, mathematicians or anyone with that kind of knowledge base and kind of training, what role do you think they have, in speaking out and trying to influence politics and trying to influence public opinion?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, absolutely. It’s really hard. And I think recently, we’ve kind of seen a rise of misinformation and people having less and less trust in scientists. We saw people kind of revolting against COVID like lockdowns, or say like anti vaxxers, all that kind of thing. A lot of people are almost yeah, losing trust in science. I’m not really sure what we can do to try and fix that. I think it’s a really tough issue. But it’s something that we’re going to need to come to together as a community to try and solve because it’s been having some pretty wide reaching ramifications.

**Cue music.

Rose Kerr – What are some misconceptions of being someone who studies maths? What do people say? If you’re like you said, if you’re like, I don’t know, out at a club. Let’s say out at a club and someone says ‘Hey, what do you do?’ And you’re like ‘I study maths’ What? What are your misconceptions you come up against?

Max Anderson Loake – (laughs) Absolutely. When I say I study maths, I get one of two responses. So the first response is “Ugh, I hated maths in school”, which I get all the time. And then the second response is, “Oh, what are you going to do with a maths degree?”

Rose Kerr – Wow. Yeah.

Max Anderson Loake – And I think that’s a very common question. Because if you study law, then you’re gonna become a lawyer. If you study medicine, you’re gonna become a doctor, if you study engineering, you’re going to become an engineer. Maths is not really like that. There’s, I don’t know if there’s really such thing as a mathematician other than if you’re in research. I think maths opens doors to a huge range of careers. And so it’s not as simple as you do a maths degree you become this and so I find it quite hard to answer that question, but I think it’s definitely a misconception that having a maths degree is unemployable. Not going to get you anywhere. I think the problem solving skills and logical reasoning are relevant to absolutely everything. Another misconception I’d say is probably that mathematicians are just very nerdy and anti sociable. All my cohort or all six of us in the statistics group, are so kind sociable people. All of them have heaps of other things going on whether they be sporting, musical, definitely not a nerdy group. Well, I think we’ve all got a lot of inner nerds in us, I definitely say I have an inner nerd. But just a really cool, awesome group of people.

Rose Kerr – Depending on who you’re with, are you more likely to lead with your talents in sports or your love of maths?

Max Anderson Loake – I would always go love of maths. I think I’ve always liked to try and define myself by working hard in academics rather than sports I think.

**Cue music

Rose Kerr – Being a young person and just kind of at the start of some of your, the bigger parts of your career, especially with having gotten the scholarship, are you ever worried about burnout and running out of energy? I hope I haven’t just like made you think it’s time.

Max Anderson Loake – Burnout’s not something that I think about massively, I think I’m pretty motivated and driven person. And I’ve got a really great support network there. I think I’ve been very lucky in that even though I do have a range of pursuits, they balance each other out pretty well. So when I’m feeling burnt out from study, I can go down to the beach and train when I’m burnt out at training, I can go and spend time with people from Ignite. So I think as long as I continue to choose things that complement and balance each other out well so that I can take a break from one thing by doing another. Hopefully, I should be fine.

Rose Kerr – It’s usually the key and kind of following that thought, when you get out of bed in the morning, are you excited for the day? Are you ever just like ‘oh I’d really like to sleep in’?

Max Anderson Loake – So my alarm goes off at 4:57am every morning. (laughs)

Rose Kerr – I love this. It’s so specific.

Max Anderson Loake – I’ve got it down pat so that I know exactly when I need to wake up so that I can get to swimming training on time without waking up a minute too early. Yeah, my alarm goes off at 4:57 every morning. And every morning I wake up and I think “maybe I should just have this morning off swimming.” (laughs) But then I get up and go. So at the very start of the day, not particularly optimistic. I find that normally by the end of swimming, I’ve got the adrenaline, got some endorphins pumping, and I’m ready to take on the day.

Rose Kerr – What time do you go to bed then?

Max Anderson Loake – Very early, normally 8:30 I try to be asleep by nine. I find if I’m asleep at 9:01 then I’m just in the worst mood the next day. 8:59, I’m an angel. So I don’t know what it is about the nine o’clock barrier. But I find if I’m asleep before nine then it helps me stay productive.

Rose Kerr – But what about weekends? Do you take weekends to have fun?

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah, we normally have Saturday morning off training.

Rose Kerr – Good.

Max Anderson Loake – And so Friday night’s normally my fun night.

Rose Kerr – Yeah, nice.

Max Anderson Loake – And I definitely have, I’m very lucky to have a group of friends who also tend to be somewhat busy. And they’re very understanding if I’ve got things on and we just make time for each other when we can and it’s like with, yeah, been together all week.

**Cue music

Rose Kerr – In the final section of the podcast, it happens every single week. If someone doesn’t know that we’re about to do this, I’ll be very surprised. But I would love to know your most favourite fun fact that you’ve learned through the course of your time at uni.

Max Anderson Loake – Yes. So I think probably my favourite fun fact that I learned in my first year stats course, was that if you properly shuffle a deck of cards, then it’s more than likely that the exact order of the cards has never been seen before in the whole history of the universe. I think it’s pretty cool. This is 52 cards. Well, cards haven’t really been around that long.

Rose Kerr – There’s so many possibilities.

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah.

Rose Kerr – Wow.

Max Anderson Loake – I think it’s 52 factorial.

Rose Kerr – That’s a big number.

Max Anderson Loake – Yeah huge.

Rose Kerr – Yeah. Oh, that’s a wonderful fun fact. It’s very like I feel like that’s a good one to call on at a party. I like that a lot. Well, thank you so so much for coming on the podcast today Max.

Max Anderson Loake – Thank you so much for having me.

**Cue music (closing theme)

Rose Kerr – Thanks for listening to the Particle podcast. You can find more of our content on all the socials as well as at Particle is powered by Scitech and everything we make is made in a wonderful science hub that is Western Australia on Whadjuk country.

Rose Kerr
About the author
Rose Kerr
View articles