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CHOOSEMATHS Grant Recipient Profile: Madeleine Kyng

Madeleine Kyng

University of New South Wales

My interest in mathematics started midway through high school, when I first encountered proofs and problem solving in geometry. Discovering the solutions to tricky problems became very satisfying, and mathematics quickly became my favourite subject. At school, I was accelerated in maths and started Year 11 Extension 1 Mathematics in Year 10, and completed the HSC for Extension 2 mathematics in Year 11. My passion for mathematics only grew in this time, and by Year 12 I was certain I wanted to go to university and study more mathematics.

I chose to study Advanced Mathematics at UNSW, and I am currently in my honours year in mathematics working on my thesis. I picked up a double degree in Computer Science along the way, which I intend to finish in 2019. Throughout my degree I have worked for the UNSW mathematics department in several roles, such as a Mathematics Drop-In Centre tutor, and in helping review online class material for core first year mathematics subjects. I have been awarded three prizes during my time at UNSW, those being the Women in Mathematics and Statistics Prize, Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 prizes.

I hope to work as a professional mathematician in the future.

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

I am studying pure mathematics, and I am especially interested in algebra and combinatorics. My honours thesis is about developing an algorithm to compute a special function, known as the zeta function, associated for any given curve defined over a finite field. There exist many sophisticated algorithms for computing zeta functions of curves, but these algorithms only work for curves with certain nice properties. The algorithm discussed in my thesis should work for some of the types of curves\textit{without} these nice properties. The problem of computing the zeta function turns out to be relevant to modern cryptography, and is also connected with coding theory and other computational problems in number theory.

 You received a CHOOSE MATHS 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?

Without the CHOOSEMATHS grant, I would not have been able to attend AMSI Summer School. I do not live in Melbourne and would not have been able to afford living on or near campus by myself. The grant was very important in enabling me to attend the Summer School.

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?

The initiatives, and the Summer School itself, are great for fostering the participation of women in mathematics. It is important that women are able to work and study in a supportive environment, and the initiatives at AMSI allow women to make connections with other women in mathematics, as well as make connections with academics and industry connections. The CHOOSEMATHS dinner made me aware of WIMSIG (The Women in Mathematics Special Interest Group), which I was not previously aware of. It is important that there exist groups who support women in mathematics, and it is important that female students are aware of these groups!

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

Studying at AMSI has exposed me to topics in mathematics that I would not otherwise have any knowledge of, such as Topological Data Analysis! I had never heard of this area prior to seeing it on the list of courses offered by AMSI’s Summer School. The Probablistic Methods and Random Graphs course also allowed me to further explore a topic I had been interested in. I have been thinking of doing research in combinatorics after completing my honours thesis, and having taken Probablistic Methods and Random Graphs enables me to do work in this field more easily.

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 parts of AMSI Summer School 2018 were exposing me to topics in mathematics that I otherwise would have been unaware of, and getting the chance to meet other students studying mathematics around Australia.

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 interested in working with industry, particularly in Data Science. I would very much like to be able to use my mathematical knowledge to solve real world problems. I would like to be able to do
intellectually stimulating work using the skills that I have learned throughout my education. It is beneficial for researchers to be exposed to working in industry, particularly for improving communication skills and ability to collaborate. Improved communication skills would help research graduates demonstrate how valuable their research or skills are.

The CHOOSE MATHS 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?

The understanding of the general population about mathematics is flawed, i.e. people think mathematics is “about numbers”. Perhaps more could be done  at the high school stage to increase interest in mathematics, in particular showing how mathematics can be used to solve problems and is
vital to engineering and science. Women may receive fewer opportunities and less encouragement to pursue education or careers in mathematics, or in STEM generally, starting at high school or earlier. Opportunities such as learning how to code, participating in mathematics or informatics competitions, being a part of a robotics club, or being able to take subjects such as Engineering Studies at their high school may be less accessible to female high school students compared to male
high school students. Workplaces with a large gender imbalance may be unsupportive environments for women, especially in how gendered issues such as sexual harassment are dealt with. Similarly, student cohorts which are unsupportive to women can lead to women feeling isolated and not
engaging as much as they otherwise would.

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 been interested in pursuing a career or further education in mathematics since my last few years of high school. I was neither encouraged nor discouraged from studying mathematics at school, however I had a great mathematics teacher in my last two years of high school, who would help me whenever I had questions.

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

I see myself either working in the finance industry or working as a post-doc in mathematics or a closely related field, I am not sure which.

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

I very much appreciate the opportunity that receiving the CHOOSEMATHS grant afforded me, and the quality of the courses was great. The courses I took were accessible and interesting and will be useful
to me in the future.