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CHOOSEMATHS Grant recipient profile: Adele Jackson

Adele Jackson

Australian National University

Adele Jackson is a student at the Australian National University, in the Bachelor of Philosophy (Science) program. She is studying honours in low-dimensional topology with Dr Joan Licata. She has yet to find an area of mathematics she’s not interested in. In particular, Adele is fascinated by fields on the border of maths and theoretical computer science, which let her combine her algorithms background with her university studies.

As well as maths, she has studied environmental science and computer science. Outside of academics she enjoys baking bread, all kinds of sport, and helping out with the Australian informatics olympiad training program and other high school enrichment programs.

Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community

I’m studying honours in low-dimensional topology. I’m looking at surfaces (think a sphere or a doughnut) and how to describe ways of mapping from a surface to itself. For example, imagine peeling the skin off a doughnut, then deforming it by cutting and twisting it, then gluing it back on. This is interesting to mathematicians because you can build any three dimensional space (so a space that locally looks like the world we live in, but might be globally very different) in a way that’s described by these mappings. If we can understand these maps, we can understand any three-dimensional space.

You received a CHOOSEMATHS Grant to assist your attendance at AMSI Summer School 2018. How important was this in terms of your ability to attend and fully participate in the sessions throughout the program?

I could not have attended the summer school without receiving this grant. I feel so lucky to be able to spend a month learning so much, in an exciting new city, without having to worry about the extra expense. It was also fantastic to be provided accommodation with the other grant recipients. Getting to know other students at a similar stage to me, from all across Australia, was very valuable and gave me a different perspective on honours and what I want to do after.

How important are initiatives such as the CHOOSEMATHS Grants in terms of fostering the participation and achievement of women in mathematics, particularly in terms of access to networking opportunities and further training opportunities?

These types of initiatives are tremendously important. They give women opportunities that they would not otherwise have. The chance to meet students and researchers from across Australia is particularly valuable, as it allows women to find role models and mentors.

In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Has it influenced the direction of your research?

Attending the summer school exposed me to topological data analysis for the first time. I had no idea this fascinating application of algebraic topology existed, and would love to explore it further. More broadly, meeting so many other students who are just as excited about maths as I am reinvigorated me with enthusiasm for the year ahead.

What was the most valuable part of AMSI Summer School 2018 for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?

As I’m about to graduate, and would like to do a PhD, I found it very valuable meeting so many students in my field from around Australia. I valued having the opportunity to ask them about what they’re doing and the paths they’re thinking of following next.

A presentation on the AMSI Intern program was included as part of the Careers Afternoon. One of the aims of the AMSI Intern program is to maximise employability and help prepare research graduates to drive industry/private sector research. Are you hoping to work with industry? How important is this experience for researchers? Particularly in terms of offering career flexibility for women?

I am certainly interested in private sector research. The more problem-focused attitude sounds quite exciting and engaging. I’m afraid I can’t speak to its impact for researchers, as I’m so early in my career myself.

The CHOOSEMATHS Grants are part of a broader program being delivered by AMSI Schools with support from BHP Billiton to turn the tide on Australia’s maths deficit and strengthen maths education and participation of women across the discipline. What do you see as the big challenges facing maths in Australia, particularly for women?

I think one big challenge is a lack of public engagement in maths. First, students deciding what to study often see maths as boring or too hard for them. This disconnect between high school and university mathematics means we do not have enough people finishing their education with mathematical training. Second, a lack of public understanding as to what mathematicians do means the broader community may not see the point of what we study. This may limit the perspective of those in the community, as well as presenting a communication and outreach challenge for mathematicians.

Did you always want to pursue a career in maths? Were you encouraged to study these subjects at school? Do any particular mentors come to mind? Any outstanding teachers?

I was particularly engaged in mathematics by the Informatics Olympiad program, run by the Australian Mathematics Trust. I attended their camps first as a student in 2013, and now help run them. Their problem-motivated, highly engaging program let me challenge myself with mathematics, and got me excited about the field. I also loved the chance to meet the university students running the camps and hear about what they were studying and how they got there.

Where do you see yourself in five, ten years time?

I would like to complete a PhD, probably in topology. I love thinking about interesting, difficult problems. I’m not sure what I’d do after that – the research programs in the Department of Defence look really interesting and exciting, as does the Bureau of Meteorology.

Any other feedback/comments you would like to provide on the CHOOSEMATHS grant or AMSI Summer School 2018?

Thank you so much for awarding me the grant! The summer school was fantastic fun and very interesting – I learnt a lot and met many fabulous people.