What's in a name?

Some people might be wondering how I have the nerve to use the name Polymath Tutor when the term polymath is typically reserved for luminaries such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Bertrand Russell. I want to make it clear that the name is not intended as a boast about my own abilities but rather as a reflection of the multidisciplinary approach I try to take with my teaching and how I hope learning about maths and science can help many areas of someone’s life


I chose the name because


  •   I think encouraging a love of learning is as important as giving guidance about a particular subject.


  • Every student has a unique memorising and understanding information and will find different aspects of a subject engaging. Numerous different models of learning styles have been proposed, although the idea of specific learning styles is not universally accepted. However, for individual tuition to be fully effective, it is often necessary to use many different methods of presenting a topic and making it relevant to someone’s own interests and abilities. I have taught many students about the periodic table but my lessons often contain songs and artwork in addition to material about sub-atomic particles and reactivity trends.


  •   It is often inaccurate to think of the subjects I teach as completely separate entities. So much of physics relies on maths that they overlap on many topics and there are countless crossover areas between biology, chemistry and physics.


  • Most scientific research requires a huge amount of collaboration between scientists and engineers from different specialities.


  •   A certain level of literacy and numeracy is required to function in the adult world. Think how vulnerable someone who has problems reading becomes when they have to decide whether or not to sign a legal contract such as the tenancy agreement on a flat, or write a covering letter when applying for a job. It may be that a certain level of scientific knowledge is also becoming vital as technology becomes a bigger and bigger part of everyday life and complex and controversial scientific topics enter public and political debate. The recent controversies over vaccination and the outbreaks of contagious diseases such as measles are a stark example of the risks of limited scientific literacy.


  •   Perhaps it is more constructive and more accurate to think of subjects adding to each other rather than detracting from each other. The great Richard Feynman explained this better than I ever could and a beautiful illustration of his argument can be found here.


  •  Speaking of Feynman, how many of the truly great scientists were able to achieve so much because they retained the creativity and imagination needed to link together previously disparate topics in their own fields and to form novel views on existing research? One of my favourite examples of this would be Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity in which gravity is considered as a curvature in spacetime as opposed to simply a force of attraction between objects with mass. While there were many people who had studied the mathematics Einstein used to make his breakthrough he was the only person with the ingenuity to understand what the results of their calculations meant. 



  • The indirect benefit that a subject can give a student should never be ignored. I know that my physics and maths benefitted greatly from the logical and structured way I was taught Latin and I am sure a big part of the reason I am able to stand in front of a class is because of the confidence I gained from performances for music and drama.


  •  Many people find themselves hindered in their professional life because their areas of expertise are so narrow. There are numerous examples of scientists who are brilliant when carrying out their own research but lack the communication skills to make others interested in their projects and thus struggle to get funding for their work or attract students to their research groups.  Conversely, many people in creative careers struggle to do their accounts and keep track of their finances because they find maths problematic.


  •  As it becomes increasingly rare to stay in the same career for one’s entire working life it may become increasingly valuable to study a wide range of subjects and skills.