14 Oct University Challenge star Bobby Seagull shares his love of mathematics and academics with NCS students as part of our Lecture Programme
East Ham’s favourite son, Bobby Seagull, visited students at The NCS on Tuesday 25th September to share his love of maths and recount his experiences as part of our Lecture Programme. Bobby became widely known last year when he captained Emmanuel College, Cambridge, on University Challenge. His optimistic demeanour along with the opposing captain’s Eric Monkman steely determination became an internet sensation, which saw the two become friends and together work to promote STEM subjects with a quiz book, media appearances, and a recent successful BBC TV series titled “Monkman and Seagull’s Genius Guide to Britain”.
Bobby started his talk to students by reminiscing about his younger years in East Ham. Part of what is now The NCS’ campus was once East Ham library, so he spoke of how his Dad used to take him there every Saturday and he’d sit on the floor soaking up stories and knowledge from all the books.
“One of the things that defines me as a person is that I always wanted to learn things, always asking why. One of the things that makes people succeed is curiosity.”
His curiosity led him to earning a scholarship to attend Eton College. Amongst his fellow students was some of our country’s young elites, including Prince Harry. Whilst there he noticed something that wasn’t prevalent amongst his friends back in East Ham; everyone who studied at Eton saw success in their parents and peers, they therefore believed that attending the best universities and earning the best jobs in society was a natural part of their future. It was this belief and confidence that struck Bobby as he spoke to students about the so called ‘imposter syndrome’.
“Never ever feel that because you’re from East London, or you’re not from a rich background that you don’t deserve to be where you’re heading too. But to do that you need to have conviction in yourself.”
A career in the city followed, but after the 2008 financial crash Bobby decided to turn his attention to education. As well as training to teach, he setup initiatives with friends to promote maths as a worthwhile subject that has relevance in the everyday life. This desire remains post-University Challenge. He discovered the attention his appearance brought meant that people were interested in listening to what he had to say. He’s become an ambassador for National Numeracy alongside Rachel Riley and Martin Lewis, a role which sees him regularly speak to the media on a range of issues around maths education and literacy. Being on talk radio the previous evening, he told students that presenter Eamonn Holmes asked him what it was like to be a genius.
“I hate the word genius. Because in our society, if we say someone’s a genius it puts them on a pedestal and says, ‘This person has natural gifts and is beyond all self doubt.’ But what I think is better to talk about is how they got to the point where they look really competent and confident. If you look at a swan, it floats along and looks really graceful. But actually beneath the water it’s flapping its feet vigorously. People never see all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.”
Bobby shared his secrets of how to achieve success with the students in attendance. Throughout all of them, as with his metaphor with the swan, hard work and effort were regularly mentioned. In true Bobby Seagull style he provided an equation to represent achievement.
“Talent x Effort2 = Achievement. Effort is the most important thing. Every one of you has a level of talent, but you can all adjust the effort with which you work.”
Finishing his talk with a maths rap – inspired by a student who in a lesson was listening to “maths music” – Bobby then led a generous Q&A session for another half an hour, ending with a reminder that every person in the room have never had better opportunities in front of them to help them achieve their dreams.
“The NCS is such a great sixth form. When I was sixteen people from Newham didn’t go to top universities, I remember every year maybe one person went to Oxbridge, a few to UCL or Imperial. Whereas now we have sixth forms like The NCS, so we have many students going to Oxbridge, and I saw Tafsia who went to MIT, which is amazing and phenomenal. Students from this area are now going to the best universities in the world. For you that should be the most inspiring thing. You should say, ‘I too can achieve that.’”
Everyone at The NCS would like to thank Bobby for visiting and spending time with our students. His talk and positivity have left an indelible mark on everyone in attendance.
Below you can watch an exclusive interview with Bobby Seagull, see photos from the talk and discover some of students’ views.
Exclusive video interview with Bobby Seagull
We sat down with Bobby following his talk and spoke about his roots in East Ham, his love for maths, and how The NCS is helping to level the playing field for the young people of East London. He also left a message for all of our students.
The Student View
“The talk by Bobby Seagull was not only extremely helpful in aiding us students to revise more effectively, but also served as inspiration to us all. He gave us several tips on how to ensure that we study efficiently, which will not only help us going forward with our A level studies, but as we progress through our life as well. He also gave us the confidence to believe in ourselves, to aim as high as possible, and to work hard in order to guarantee that we succeed. He spoke charismatically, engaging with the students. He encouraged us all to make the most of the opportunities that we are given, and to work hard now to lay the groundwork for a successful future.” - Umran
``There are many words to describes Bobby Seagull’s lecture and mundane is not one of them. From his engaging humour and intriguing life stories, Seagull displayed an inspirational talk emphasising the importance of effort, grit, and the ability to respond to difficulty in order to achieve success despite an individual’s background or ethnicity. With his numerous accomplishments including the publication of his latest book, ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers’, he's incredibly motivational providing an exemplary example of where an individual’s persistence can achieve. However, the quintessential highlight of the presentation would have to be the rap on mathematics, providing the perfect conclusion on the day’s event, especially if it’s on trigonometry.`` - Foosim
``The lecture by Bobby Seagull was extremely enlightening. It was very encouraging to see someone who is from Newham that has gone to Cambridge and this has further motivated me to strive for my goals of being a doctor. In addition he has made me realise that work ethic is very important as he told us a couple of equations which showed that it’s not just about natural talent. It’s about how much hard work you put in. I enjoyed this lecture very much.`` - Alan