I have always loved mathematics and have envisaged myself pursuing a career in maths from a young age. After completing my Bachelor of Science (with a double major in pure mathematics) in 2015, I decided to forgo the world of study, gain a bit of professional experience by entering the workforce, and some worldly experience by backpacking through Asia for three months. The time spent away from higher mathematics has only acted in further cementing my belief that I want to spend my life learning and doing maths, solving the problems of today. In 2018, I return to university to undertake my honours year, which I hope will interest, challenge, and delight me. Upon completion of this year, I see two potential paths ahead of me: the first, in the world of academia, and the second in industry. I look forward to finding out where mathematics will take me!
Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community
I study pure mathematics, with a focus in the areas of group theory, representation theory and topology. My current research project has many applications in other areas of mathematics, as well as in sciences like physics. For example, the concept of manifolds in topology is currently being studied to shed light on the highly-popular and controversial physics topic of string theory!
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?
The CHOOSEMATHS Grant allowed me to stay at the on-campus accommodation, without which I would have had to stay a one hour’s commute away, but instead, I had a 5-minute walk to classes. Given the intensity of the programme at the summer school, this was an excellent luxury that certainly made a significant contribution to my relative success in the course.
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?
Providing the opportunity (via a grant) for students that may not otherwise be able or willing to attend makes a great effort toward expanding and diversifying the cohort of students interested in pursuing mathematics in academia or in industry. A greater and more diverse population in the field of mathematics can only increase and improve the work done in mathematics, which will, in turn, further encourage more students to enter the field, inevitably propagating the success and contribution of mathematics.
In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Has it influenced the direction of your research?
The unit I undertook at the AMSI Summer School was on a topic that had not previously been available to me, giving me an opportunity to learn something new, and broaden my knowledge-base and understanding in Mathematics!
What was the most valuable part of AMSI Summer School 2018 for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?
The most valuable aspects of the AMSI Summer School was a combination of networking, and the credit offered for my course. The summer school gave me the opportunity to meet and connect with other like-minded individuals, it enabled me to create valuable relationships with other mathematicians (both those striving to enter industry as well as those following the path of academia) all around Australia, which may prove essential while I aim to establish my own career. On the other hand, as I am undertaking an honours programme in the coming year, the credit provided toward that course is extremely valuable – it will allow me to focus more energy on the subjects and project work during the year, and thus gain a greater understanding of the content involved, as well as the potential for greater achievement in these subjects!
A presentation on the AMSI Intern programme was included as part of the Careers Afternoon. One of the aims of the AMSI Intern programme 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 yet undecided if I will pursue a career in industry, many aspects of the work do entice me, however the world of academia does also offer many qualities I value. Yet, the presentation did open my eyes to some of the opportunities outside academia.
As an honours student, I cannot provide comment on whether this experience is valuable to researchers, or the potential career flexibility for women.
The CHOOSEMATHS Grants are part of a broader programme 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?
The biggest deterrent to students (both male and female) who may hold a potential interest in mathematics are the curricula we see in high schools around Australia. The style of mathematics taught in high schools today is solely based around learning techniques (the tools required to do mathematics) rather than studying the problems of mathematics themselves. If the curricula were based on solving problems, and learning the tools one needs to do so was merely a by-product, I believe we would capture the attention and interest of a much greater proportion of students (of both genders). A common question asked in today’s classes is “When will we use this in real life?”, and the answer is “All the time!”, but the students are never exposed to the problem-solving aspect.
For women specifically, I feel there is no inherent issue involved. I postulate that perhaps a lack of women in the field in the main contributor in dissuading women from pursuing it, propagating a self-perpetuating cycle. If we could, through a revitalisation of the curriculum perhaps, interest more women, these women could then act as role models for the following generation, hopefully encouraging a greater interest amongst them.
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 have always held a deep passion for mathematics and thus have always envisaged myself pursuing a career in that area, even from a very young age. I was always encouraged by both my parents to engage, interact and initiate contact with any subject that interested me, particularly mathematics (because they recognised my obvious enthusiasm for maths). However, it is also true that if it were not for two excellent teachers I had in high school, I may not have had the interest or ability to continue to pursue it – they were both innately passionate about mathematics, and excellent educators in the subject!
Where do you see yourself in five, ten years time?
I see two viable career paths for myself. The first is academia in mathematics, the second is in industry (still in a mathematics role). Currently, I find myself torn between the two possibilities as they both provide opportunities that are very important to me. The former offers the opportunity to teach – to mould and shape the future mathematicians of tomorrow – as well as the ability to do research in mathematics – to investigate, contemplate and solve the mathematics problems of today. On the other hand, the latter provides a more hands-on, direct approach to tackling real-world problems and contributing to society!
Any other feedback/comments you would like to provide on the CHOOSEMATHS grant or AMSI Summer School 2018?
I love the idea of providing grants to women in mathematics for events like a summer school, particularly for those who may not be in a position to fund the trip themselves! For me, the grant (which allowed me to stay on-campus) really gave me the opportunity to make the most of the event.