HMS

Claudia Garetto

Claudia Garetto

Born in Asti, Italy Studies Mathematics at Torino University, Italy • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in London, UK • Occupation Reader in Mathematics at Queen Mary University of London

My love for Mathematics started at an early age. I remember one day in scuola media (middle school in Italy) when my maths teacher sketched the graph of a function on the blackboard. She was explaining linear motion and I was blown away. I saw how maths relates to real life and how beautiful it is to explain maths, which is often considered a difficult topic, to others. I just wanted to be like her: a mathematician solving equations and sketching graphs on a blackboard, and this is exactly what I do now. It has been extremely important for me to see women do the job I am doing now. In Italy it is quite common for girls to study mathematics at university and to have women maths teachers in school: growing up I never thought that maths was a “boy” subject. Later, when I moved to Austria for my PhD studies and then to the UK for my first permanent academic position, I realised how lucky I had been.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) activities are becoming more and more important (I am the EDI lead in my school), so I hope the gender gap will become smaller and smaller in the future but there is still a long way to go…

In both of these countries, women are a minority in STEM and it is unfortunately still common to have almost no women professors in many maths departments. Consequently, it is still a struggle to motivate the best women maths students to take the academic route. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) activities are becoming more and more important (I am the EDI lead in my school), so I hope the gender gap will become smaller and smaller in the future but there is still a long way to go…

As an undergraduate at Torino University I loved Mathematical Analysis. I found the formalism of pure mathematics beautiful and reassuring and I got more and more attracted to the idea of proving my own theorem, of constructing my own mathematical theory. That’s how my original plan of becoming a maths secondary school teacher changed into becoming a researcher and to establish myself as an academic.

Every move has meant for me to grow as a mathematician but more importantly as a person. I have learnt to be resilient but also to be flexible, adaptable, and open-minded.

I apparently had a very straightforward career path: PhD, postdoc, permanent position. However, I changed countries twice. In 2002 I moved from Italy to Austria to conclude my PhD studies. After 8 years at Innsbruck University, I moved to Imperial College London as a Junior Research Fellow and in 2012 at Loughborough University as a Lecturer. I have recently moved to Queen Mary University of London where I am currently working on the analysis of hyperbolic equations and systems with multiplicities: an extremely fascinating area of mathematics. Every move has meant for me to grow as a mathematician but more importantly as a person. I have learnt to be resilient but also to be flexible, adaptable, and open-minded. These are in my opinion extremely important qualities in any social and work environment.

I often talk to girls of school age approaching the university world of mathematics. My only advice to them is to follow their passion. If you are passionate about maths nothing will stop you! It will not always be easy. Failure is normal but with your dedication and the support of the right people (colleagues, supervisor, mentor) you will overcome every obstacle.

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Shanti Venetiaan

Shanti Venetiaan

Born in Suriname Studied Mathematics at Leiden University, The Netherlands • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in Suriname • Occupation Professor at the Anton de Kom University, Suriname

I think that I have always been interested in mathematics. I was a curious child and I liked puzzling. I always requested puzzles for my birthday, like the Jigsaw ones. At school, mathematics was my favorite subject. Moreover, my father is also a mathematician. So by the time that I had to choose a course of study at university, it was very clear that it had to be mathematics.

I was not actively pursuing an academic career when I started university.

Given that Suriname was a former Dutch colony, it was very common for Surinamese students to study in the Netherlands. So it was almost a natural choice for me to go there as well. All my school mates went to the Technical University in Delft, but I decided to go to Leiden University: the same university where my father had studied. 

I was not actively pursuing an academic career when I started university. I do remember reading the leaflet that described all the steps leading to a PhD and beyond. At that moment, I realized that that was what I wanted for myself. After I did my final thesis in Leiden, my thesis advisor moved to the University of Amsterdam. He asked me whether I was interested in becoming his PhD student. Still, I was not sure what to do at that moment: I had been in the Netherlands for five years already and I was ready to go back home to Suriname. When I discussed this with my parents though, they persuaded me to stay and to take the opportunity, so I did. Now, I can say that I am very happy with my decision!

The academic life here mainly revolves around teaching, and there is no real research environment. But we are working hard to change this.

When I came back from the Netherlands after my PhD there was no mathematics department at the Anton de Kom university and I was hired in the School of Technology instead. The academic life here mainly revolves around teaching, and there is no real research environment. But we are working hard to change this. Our bachelor program in mathematics recently got accredited and we are trying to build a research culture. One of the main difficulties we are facing is the lack of expertise: I am the only person with a PhD in mathematics in the country. Suriname is a very small country with a population of around 500,000 people, so it is common to be the only one with a certain expertise. But it is a nice challenge, and I like it!

My advice to young students who enjoy mathematics is to follow your heart. If mathematics is where your heart is, then do it! It is a beautiful subject.

To overcome this lack of expertise, we are initiating more collaborations with foreign universities. For instance, the pandemic opened new possibilities for our students: they could now follow online lectures from universities all around the world. I hope that similar opportunities will continue after Covid-19 and that they will become official partnerships, as this will provide more opportunities to our students.

My advice to young students who enjoy mathematics is to follow your heart. If mathematics is where your heart is, then do it! It is a beautiful subject. If you like puzzling, it is very fulfilling. Furthermore, mathematics provides you with a training in abstract thinking that you can use anywhere!

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Evi Papadaki

Evi Papadaki

Born in Crete, Greece • Birth year 1992 Studied Mathematics at National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece • Highest Degree MSc in Mathematics and Its Applications at University of Crete in Greece • Lives in Norwich, UK • Occupation PhD researcher in Mathematics Education at the University of East Anglia, UK

Either by chance or by choice, I always found maths attractive. My mum is a maths teacher, her sisters, too. So, I was regularly in the middle of casual maths conversations growing up. I was observing my mum teaching sometimes, and I was reading her maths books when I was bored. One of the advantages I had as a child was seeing my mum preparing for her lessons and devoting herself to solving problems, struggling, spending time on them, discussing methods and solutions with her sisters. I never found maths easy, but I knew that dedicating time was part of what made it meaningful, and I was up for it.

I remember when I was about 9 years old, I told my dad that I wanted to become an astrophysicist. He was very excited trying to explain ‘the plan’ to me: I had to finish school and study physics, then I should do a masters and a PhD in Astrophysics. I was shocked by the amount of work that I had to do and that was the moment I decided to become a maths teacher. As naive as it sounds, I thought I was doing well at maths already so I could teach others (!).  Yet here I am, 20 years later and having realised the complexity of the work, doing a PhD trying to understand how a teacher can talk to her students about mathematics.

I felt like I always knew about the Pythagorean Theorem. Before I even knew how to read or write, I could quote it without knowing what that means. I learnt how to use it in secondary school. I learnt what it means in high school and a teacher told us that it has over 300 different proofs.

I started thinking about the possibility of studying for a PhD in Mathematics Education in my final year as an undergraduate. I found it fascinating how all the things I’ve learnt throughout the years connected with each other as a gigantic 3D jigsaw puzzle. For example, I felt like I always knew about the Pythagorean Theorem. Before I even knew how to read or write, I could quote it without knowing what that means. I learnt how to use it in secondary school. I learnt what it means in high school and a teacher told us that it has over 300 different proofs. I learnt a couple of the proofs at university. Finally, I learnt that it can be generalised with other shapes and in more dimensions from a video on YouTube.

For me mathematics was never just a subject in school. It was a process of discovery inside and outside of the classroom and I wanted to study if there was a way to spark the curiosity of my students beyond the boundaries of a curriculum or programme of study.

I met people who thought teaching mathematics is purely applied pedagogy and disregarded my mathematical abilities because of that. I met people that thought I was wasting my potential as a mathematician. […] None of them is true!

When I decided that I wanted to follow a career in Mathematics Education research, I had the full support of my family, my friends and my mentors. Nonetheless, I had to fight a few stereotypes on the way. I met people who thought teaching mathematics is purely applied pedagogy and disregarded my mathematical abilities because of that. I met people that thought I was wasting my potential as a mathematician. I also met people that assumed that I am doing a quantitative study as I must be good in statistics. None of them is true! I am doing a qualitative study of how a teacher can talk to her students about mathematics in ways that are not anticipated in a typical mathematics lesson. For my project, I need to unpack the mathematical meaning of the conversations that take place between teachers and students. So, I challenge what I know about mathematics almost every day and I have learnt a lot more than I ever thought I would. Moreover, I am working at the student services of my University helping students with their maths, so I have the chance to expand my horizons in the variety of applications of mathematics making my interest in teaching and learning mathematics in ways that could aid students in different aspects of their personal and professional life even greater.

Looking back, I am grateful that those comments didn’t bring me down.

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Rachel Thomas

Rachel Thomas

Born in Perth, Australia • Birth year 1974 Studied Mathematics at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia • Highest Degree MSc (Research) in Pure Mathematics • Lives in London, UK • Occupation Editor of Plus magazine (http://plus.maths.org)

When I started university, I planned to be a physicist or astronomer – I can’t deny I was heavily influenced by a love of scifi! I had a great time working in a gravity wave lab one summer, but the experience also made me realise I didn’t have the patience or practical ingenuity to be an experimental scientist. I found the theory fascinating. But at the lab flanges wouldn’t seal properly and huge niobium bars couldn’t be cooled low enough – I wasn’t as fascinated by the practical experimental problem solving.

I then remembered my other film-influenced career plan of becoming an archaeologist and took courses in Australian archaeology and Greek art and architecture. I had a brilliant time but again, I realised I didn’t have the patience required for the field work and analysis. I spent weeks trying (and not really succeeding) to make sense of tray after tray of very small grubby objects that I had dug up. I loved the ideas behind both of these glamorous careers, but the actual nitty gritty doing of the work just didn’t excite me.

Academia wasn’t appealing to most of the women I had studied with.

In the meantime, I’d been doing maths all along and I loved it. Originally, I took maths because I needed it to study physics. Then I kept studying maths because it turned out to be really fun. I really liked the actual doing of the maths – playing with linear algebra, proving something in group theory – each new area we were taught was so exciting with new concepts and new language or giving familiar ideas an entirely new perspective.

I loved doing research in semigroup theory for my Master’s degree and often couldn’t wait to get back to the desk to move my work forward. Unfortunately though, I didn’t really feel part of the community of my maths department. With hindsight, I’m sure this was partly due to being one of just a few female students when I was at honours and then postgraduate level. Academia wasn’t appealing to most of the women I had studied with. When things didn’t work out with my supervisor I nearly dropped out and left academia to work as a consultant mathematician on projects in government and industry. But fortunately, my generous boss, a brilliant female professor from the department, and my good friends supported me to finish my Master’s dissertation.

(…) it was in this job, and during the writing of my Master’s dissertation, that I discovered how much I loved communicating mathematics.

My work as a consultant was varied, and despite rarely crossing paths with the maths I’d learnt at university my degree had prepared me to learn quickly and to discern the structure of a problem and how I could use available data to answer meaningful questions. My maths training also helped me to communicate with the clients and it was in this job, and during the writing of my Master’s dissertation, that I discovered how much I loved communicating mathematics.

When I moved to the UK, I knew I wanted to write about maths. I was lucky enough to get a job with the Millennium Mathematics Project (MMP), a maths and education outreach initiative based at the University of Cambridge, before I left Australia. I quickly moved into working on Plus magazine, the part of the MMP that enables anyone who is curious about maths and the world to see the maths behind current events and keeping up to date with current maths research.

To see maths so visibly making a difference in the world, and to witness the passion, creativity and dedication of the mathematicians involved has been amazing.

Twenty years later I still love working at Plus, every day learning about new maths and new applications and talking to the mathematicians who make it all happen. My brilliant co-editor of Plus, Marianne Freiberger, and I get to go on all sorts of amazing mathematical adventures. Our work has taken us around the world, we’ve spoken to brilliant mathematicians from academia and industry, we’ve written several popular science books, appeared on TV and radio and worked on documentary series for the Discovery Channel working with our colleagues at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. And over the last two years we’ve been lucky enough to work with epidemiologists working on the mathematical front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to explain and communicate their work. To see maths so visibly making a difference in the world, and to witness the passion, creativity and dedication of the mathematicians involved has been amazing.

Things have changed a lot since I found myself as one of only a few female students at the end of my time at university.

Things have changed a lot since I found myself as one of only a few female students at the end of my time at university. Despite no longer being an academic mathematician, I feel firmly part of the maths community today.  And I’m very happy that nearly half the mathematicians and researchers Plus has collaborated with over the last year are women. A new community spirit seems to be rising in many mathematics departments, heavily influenced by the experience and hard work of the female researchers already there. I hope that these networks, and projects including Her Maths Story, are helping women in mathematics find the support and the supporters they need to follow their own maths stories.

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Laura Venieri

Laura Venieri

Born in Italy • Birth year 1989 Studied Mathematics at University of Bologna, Italy • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics (University of Helsinki) • Lives in Helsinki, Finland • Occupation Quantitative Analyst

I have always liked maths, in school it felt easy for me and I loved solving problems. My mother, who used to be a maths teacher, contributed to making it fun for me since I was a kid, and never stopped reminding me how important and useful maths is. In high school my maths teacher always highlighted the more fascinating side of it, not giving us problems to solve following a given template but pushing us to search for a solution, with trial and error, and look for connections.

At university maths felt different, there was a whole new world to discover, and on one side it felt more difficult but on the other side it was also more motivating and rewarding.

When it was time to decide what to study at university I knew that I wanted to get a science or engineering degree, but I was unsure of what the job opportunities for a maths graduate would be, except teaching. In the end, I chose maths anyway, as it was the subject I liked the most. I followed my teacher’s encouragement, who assured me that many opportunities would arise.

At university maths felt different, there was a whole new world to discover, and on one side it felt more difficult but on the other side it was also more motivating and rewarding. During my master’s, I decided to do an exchange and wanted to visit Northern Europe, so I ended up in Helsinki. It was a very fun year, and I enjoyed both the studies and the life outside, as it was the first time for me living in another country and being in contact with people from different parts of the world.

I had some doubts about my skills, but my thesis supervisor was very supportive and encouraged me […]

Until the year in Helsinki, I hadn’t given too much thought to what I wanted to do after graduating: in a way maths was what I liked doing the most, and I started to think about pursuing a PhD. I had some doubts about my skills, but my thesis supervisor was very supportive and encouraged me to contact a professor in Helsinki, who then became my PhD advisor.

The years of PhD were both the most rewarding and challenging in my life so far: there were moments of discomfort when I thought I was not good enough for it and not as brilliant as the other researchers, and moments of deep satisfaction when I realised that I could instead contribute to maths. Now I would tell PhD students who feel discouraged that it is normal, and it helps to talk about it with colleagues and friends. I always felt supported by my advisor, who followed me along the way, helping me when I got stuck but also leaving me the freedom to choose the direction.

I never felt directly discriminated against in my studies or research for being a woman, although at times people showed surprise when they heard that I was doing a PhD in maths, and sometimes commented that I did not look like the stereotypical mathematician. At conferences the great majority of participants and speakers were men, but I met very talented and well-established women academics, who made me feel more like I could belong there too.

I wanted a more stable life than the usual academic career would mean, and Finland was where I wanted to live with my partner.

When finishing the PhD and considering what I wanted to do next, I started to have some doubts that a career in academia would suit me best. Moving to Helsinki had been on one side a life changing experience but it had also shown me the challenges of moving to a new country and starting from fresh, and I did not look forward to doing that again. I wanted a more stable life than the usual academic career would mean, and Finland was where I wanted to live with my partner. I still wanted a job that involved maths, and at a high enough level, but I also felt like I could move to a more applied field.

I had never considered working in finance before, but I got interested after meeting my future employer at a recruitment fair. Financial mathematics relies heavily on measure theory, which I had a solid background in, and uses tools from stochastic calculus, which I began to study when starting my new job, working as a quantitative analyst in a financial company. It was a big change, also a bit scary, but I have not regretted it. It has been three full and intense years, where I have also learned some coding, database design, and data manipulation. The work is more interactive than typically in academia, which I have enjoyed, and I still feel like I have a lot to learn. After all, I realised it was true what my high school teacher had told me: after studying maths there are so many different things you can end up doing, don’t be afraid to find out!

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Federica Semeraro

Federica Semeraro

Born in Martina Franca (Taranto) in Puglia, Italy • Birth year 1990 Studied Mathematics at University of Bari, Italy (Bachelor) and University of Ferrara, Italy (Master) • Highest Degree Master in Mathematics • Lives in Ferrara, Italy • Occupation Software Engineer

My love for maths started when I was a child in primary school. My teacher at that time, who was also the only teacher for all the subjects, instilled in me the passion for numbers. I remember that my mom was angry at me because I always started with maths exercises even if the deadline was for the week after and I didn’t have maths class for days.

I was still very passionate about maths during secondary school and high school until I needed to make a decision about my future. What do you want to be when you grow up?

I decided to apply for the placement test in Physiotherapy and while I was waiting for the test results, I started to take part in maths classes at university just out of curiosity. It was incredible how abstract maths was, sometimes it was hard to understand what professors tried to explain to me! When I received the positive result of the Physiotherapy test, I decided without thinking twice to continue mathematical studies instead! 

In my life, still nowadays, I like to challenge myself with difficult projects and new objectives.

In my life, still nowadays, I like to challenge myself with difficult projects and new objectives. I continued studying maths, even though I was disheartened at times because maths was really hard and I sometimes thought about dropping out. My perseverance allowed me to finish the first three years of studies at the University of Bari with a Bachelor’s degree, and then I decided to move to Ferrara, where I did a Master’s degree in mathematics in two years.

For my master thesis, I did a project with high school students on spherical geometry and compared it to the euclidean geometry typically taught in school. At the end of my Master’s, I decided to take part in a university project, where professors helped students to get in touch with companies, start-ups and projects to easily find a job offer. Students were able to apply for job positions, even if their studies were not aligned with the job offer. That’s what I did. In this way, I had the opportunity to get to know the company where I first came into contact with automation and software engineering. 

It was really incredible how the logical and deductive reasoning learned through my mathematical studies allowed me to pass that test and help me in my future career.

The aspect that caught my attention was that you could develop the software, test it on the specific machine it is designed for during the commissioning phase in the factory, and then travel to the customers’ company for installation, thus being part of the entire development and installation process. I applied for the job, sent my CV and took a logic test. It was an engineering application and some of those problems involved motors, servos, chains and belts. I left them blank and solved only what I was able to do with maths problem solving skills. It was really incredible how the logical and deductive reasoning learned through my mathematical studies allowed me to pass that test and help me in my future career.

I got the job and started training as a software engineer in that company , working in industrial automation for packaging machines. For this job I travelled all across the world: USA, Thailand, Germany, Poland, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, etc., sometimes for entire months, spending about 30% of the year in other countries. I’m a foreigner in each place I visited, but I’m a flexible person, so I was quite fast to adapt myself to the different ways of life. 

Today I feel strong and I move on without giving importance to these kinds of things, demonstrating with results that the work is not gender-specific.

It’s not easy working in a field where 98% of the co-workers are male, because it’s a common belief that there are men’s jobs and women’s jobs. When I started my job I tried to learn something new every day as everything was new for me, and I tried to show everyone that I was capable and smart to do this job. Sometimes it happens that someone uses some comments to discriminate against women working in this field. At the beginning of my professional career, hearing these comments certainly made me feel deprived and desolated. Today I feel strong and I move on without giving importance to these kinds of things, demonstrating with results that the work is not gender-specific.

If I could tell  my 20-year old self something, I would say to not regret any decisions you made even if the first three years at University have been the worst period in your life, because with curiosity, strength, tenacity and patience you will reach your goals. I would also say to go home often and hug your parents, because you will have vacations and job trips all over the world, but there’s no place as comfortable and full of love as home.

Posted by HMS in Stories
Constanza Rojas-Molina

Constanza Rojas-Molina

Born in La Serena, Chile • Birth year 1983 Studied Mathematics at Universidad de La Serena in Chile and at Université Pierre et Marie Curie – Paris VI in France • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematical Physics from Université de Cergy-Pontoise, France • Lives in Paris, France • Occupation Lecturer at the CY Cergy Paris University

I was a late starter in maths. As a child, I was always curious and interested in many things, I was an avid reader and spent a considerable amount of time drawing. During highschool, I learnt about physics and chemistry and I was hooked on the quantum world. There, all the intuition was lost and the usual rules of physics didn’t apply anymore, it was fascinating, like Alice in Wonderland! But even then, maths was not among my main interests. I never made a connection with physics or chemistry. I knew it was something useful and necessary to know, but I always kept it at a reasonable distance. You would never see me solving maths exercises for fun. Why would I, when I had a pile of comics and books to read and stories to draw?

I discovered operator and spectral theory, functional analysis and the maths of quantum and statistical mechanics. And it was beautiful.

It was only when I entered university that my view of maths changed. University maths were something completely different. My hometown is a region of Chile known for its clear skies, suitable for observational astronomy. It’s where the first telescopes in Chile were built. So, since I didn’t have the resources to travel to the capital to study, studying physics at the local university seemed like a good fit. With all the innocence that the age of 17 could give me, I thought: if I’ll ever amount to anything, it shouldn’t matter where I start.

So, I decided to stay home and enroll in the local university physics program. The first two years of this program were in common with the maths program, and by studying physics I realized that maths was connected to many things and was very important. So important that at some point after two years I thought: I can’t continue this without having a good understanding of maths (I would have made a terrible physicist). During those two years, I found beauty in the clarity of maths. I got a first glimpse of the elegance of proofs and the usefulness of drawing the picture to go with it. I discovered operator and spectral theory, functional analysis and the maths of quantum and statistical mechanics. And it was beautiful. I was excited to be able to study physics problems from a rigorous and clear point of view.

I went to Paris, without knowing anyone, with no grant and no connections whatsoever.

So excited that I didn’t stop when I finished my undergraduate studies. I went to Paris, without knowing anyone, with no grant and no connections whatsoever. With all the courage that ignorance can give. Ignorance of the country, of the system, of how academia works. That ignorance and the support of my family made me brave enough to cross the ocean looking to satisfy my curiosity.

It’s been many years since that happened. I did my Master’s in Paris and then continued with a PhD in mathematical physics. I successfully applied to a Marie Curie Fellowship of the EU to do a postdoc in Munich. Then I did a postdoc in Bonn. Then I was a Junior Professor in Duesseldorf, I was a DFG (German Research Foundation) grant holder, I supervised students. I still do. Now I’m back to France as a lecturer. I’m also an illustrator and for the past years I’ve been focusing on mathematical communication.

This is my mathematical adventure (…). And I say adventure because this was clearly a detour, as I was supposed to become an illustrator. Now I’m both.

Looking back, I am aware now that I was a total outsider. I made my way through it and became part of the system, taking an unusual path and building my own alternative journey. Academia is tough, it’s elitist, it’s traditionalist, it’s conservative, it’s a lonely place and can lead to a lot of frustration when one does not entirely fit. It’s easy to get lost in the bad thoughts when there is no support for those that don’t follow a straight path. However, I’ve met some wonderful people along the way who helped me build my path, collaborators, and friends, and with them I’ve been able to experience the part of the job that is about connections. Connecting ideas, connecting with colleagues, connecting with students, connecting with people. That is the best side of this job, and I’m grateful for that. This is my mathematical adventure, it has ups and downs and cliffhangers and suspense, and some teary moments and some funny ones. And I say adventure because this was clearly a detour, as I was supposed to become an illustrator. Now I’m both.

I like to remember how my mathematical adventure started, because it helps me feel connected with my most essential motivations. My motivations weren’t to be a tenured professor, or a group leader, or get all the grants. My motivations were to discover and enjoy the act of discovering.

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Karem Guzmán Elgueta

Karem Guzmán Elgueta

Born in Los Vilos, Chile • Birth year 1990 • Studied B. Sc. in Mathematics and ​ B. Sc. in Mathematical Engineering at Universidad de Santiago in Santiago, Chile • Highest degree Master in Statistics • Lives in Santiago, Chile • Occupation Financial Advisory Consultant

My relationship with mathematics began when one day in high school a classmate asked me: “Karem, you are very good at mathematics, have you thought about studying it at university?” I will never forget this question because it was this one that made me aware of my love for mathematics. Since I was little, I had a knack for numbers and the subject always entertained me, so I decided to formally continue studying Mathematical Engineering at University.

During college, mathematics opened a new world, a lot of theory and logic work. It was not easy, including many hours of study and frustrations, and not always achieving good exam results. It was a long and hard road, but with resilience I managed to finish successfully.

I liked the time flexibility these jobs gave me, but they didn’t make me happy, as I felt a sense of intellectual emptiness. This is why I decided to go back to university to pursue a Master’s degree in statistics and you can’t imagine how much I liked it!

After graduating, I worked for two years as a high school teacher and as an assistant professor at the university. I liked the time flexibility these jobs gave me, but they didn’t make me happy, as I felt a sense of intellectual emptiness. This is why I decided to go back to university to pursue a Master’s degree in statistics and you can’t imagine how much I liked it! I was fascinated by the subjects associated with models and their theories (data mining, predictive modeling, supervised and unsupervised learning as well as time series, among other models), so today I am a lover of statistics.

Could you imagine what would happen if one day you make a withdrawal from your card and the bank denies it for not having funds? A systemic shock would surely occur, so these models are essential.

I am currently working for a professional services firm and I have experience in credit risk modeling projects, e.g. provision models under local regulations and International Financial Reporting Standards, countercyclical provision models, forward looking models, management models such as admission, behavior and collection, as well as in liquidity risk projects, e.g. construction of flow projection models/methodologies. Credit risk models, in general, aim to mitigate the risk of non-compliance with contracted payments, so provision models estimate an amount of money that a financial institution could eventually lose if all its customers decide not to pay. Management models, such as admission models, aim to estimate a client’s ability to meet their payment obligations, and thus help the financial institution to select its clients. On the other hand, liquidity risk models seek to ensure sufficient cash flow to comply with all normal operations associated with a financial institution: deposits, drafts, transfers, withdrawals of investment funds, etc. Could you imagine what would happen if one day you make a withdrawal from your card and the bank denies it for not having funds? A systemic shock would surely occur, so these models are essential.

My work is dynamic and very demanding, but I love it because I never do the same thing. There are always new projects and clients to care for, so I enjoy my work every day. I invite all women who like mathematics to dare and study it without fear, and if you also have an inclination for finance, then the world is yours!

Posted by HMS in Stories
Sanchita Chakraborty

Sanchita Chakraborty

Born in Bolpur, West Bengal, India • Birth year 1999 Studies Mathematics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA • Highest Degree ongoing Bachelors of Science • Lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA • Occupation Student Researcher and Undergraduate Student

I always loved how neat math was. No matter the problem, the answers seem to come with a simple number. After taking partial differential equations and numerical analysis courses, it seems so silly now, the subject is anything but “neat”. It is complex, chaotic, and elegant, but what I have come to appreciate is its beauty, its ability to explain the world around us.

When I imagined a mathematician, I thought of an old man sitting in a flickering candle-lit room with melted wax and papers strewn around on an old wooden table. What did that really mean in the era of supercomputers, high-speed trains, planes and rockets?

As a child, I never really thought of being a mathematician as a job to pursue. I mean, to be fair the greats that I knew of only existed in Ancient Greece or Rome. When I imagined a mathematician, I thought of an old man sitting in a flickering candle-lit room with melted wax and papers strewn around on an old wooden table. What did that really mean in the era of supercomputers, high-speed trains, planes and rockets?

[..], I took the route of role models like Howard Wolowitz from the Big Bang Theory and Dr. Amelia Brand from Interstellar, and chose a degree in Aerospace Engineering.

So, when I had to choose a degree to study, I took the route of role models like Howard Wolowitz from the Big Bang Theory and Dr. Amelia Brand from Interstellar, and chose a degree in Aerospace Engineering. When I entered, I was excited by the engaging new problems I would learn to solve – whether it was in understanding rocket propulsion or in the use of orbital mechanics within navigation. However, instead I became bogged down with solving mundane structures and material problems. Moving into my sophomore year, classes did become more interesting with my first fluids and orbital courses. Every time I stepped into an engineering classroom, I felt a sense of excitement in understanding the fundamental equations, rather than the applications to real-world problems.

While I had once run away from engineering, I found myself right back to where I began, but instead I was in the role of a mathematician.

I reflected on my prior math courses, thinking about how I would apply these geometric properties and analysis techniques to problems that I had been introduced to in my aerospace courses. I knew it was time for a change, so I switched gears to classes like complex analysis, partial differential equations, and introduction to proofs. I was hooked. Around the same time, I had my first laboratory experience in mathematics. I spent the summer working on neural networks to reduce the loss from the 2D approximations to the advection-diffusion equation in transport phenomena. It was one of the hardest learning experiences, coming in with very little knowledge of Deep Learning, but the hours spent on literature reviews seemed less like work and more like unravelling my favorite mystery novel. This was the moment in which the puzzle pieces of all my interests across engineering and mathematical disciplines clicked.  So when I finished my summer project, I immediately looked for new opportunities in applied mathematics, and I was fortunate enough to find a supervisor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department to work on Finite Element Methods and the Schrödinger equation. While I had once run away from engineering, I found myself right back to where I began, but instead I was in the role of a mathematician. My supervisor has helped me find confidence in my abilities and given me the opportunity to take lead on my first project, and is the reason I have found the confidence to apply to applied math MS/PhD programs for fall 2022.

I had women like Katherine Johnson to look up to, but she was merely a role model, not an individual I could tangibly connect to.

While I have been undoubtedly lucky to be surrounded by amazing mentors, the lack of women mathematicians and engineers did not go unnoticed. I found my experiences to be hardly unique. When talking to a good friend in the math department, I found that she too had been the only woman in her math classes. In four years, I had only had one woman math professor and one woman graduate student that supervised my research. In my graduate and advanced courses, I was one of two or maybe three women students. The world had long moved away from the old man in the candle-lit room, but the representation of women in the industry was grossly underdeveloped. Looking at research faculty in the graduate programs I applied to, I found the representation to be quite similar. I had women like Katherine Johnson to look up to, but she was merely a role model, not an individual I could tangibly connect to. She seemed just as far remote as the Greek greats.

Inequality seems to be quite an abstract notion and equality just an idealized concept, existing only in philosophical treatises. To encourage more women to pursue a career in academia and research, we must begin by creating real mentor-mentee relationships that go far beyond the professional. Only through this tangible bond can we expect to see true equality in every field, including this complex and elegant language we hold so close and I sincerely hope that one day the word mathematician comes with an image of a woman and a man working side by side in a world intertwined with modern technology.

Posted by HMS in Stories
Elena Tartaglia

Elena Tartaglia

Born in Melbourne, Australia • Studied Applied Mathematics at the University of Melbourne in Australia • Highest Degree Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematical Physics • Lives in Melbourne, Australia • Occupation Research Scientist

I discovered my love of maths in high school when we started learning algebra. I had never been particularly adept at arithmetic or memorising times tables, but algebra was fun. It was about learning logical rules and applying them, step by step, to solve a problem that seemed impossible from the outset. My maths career so far has taken me from applied maths to mathematical physics to statistics and data science. Though the technical areas have been different, the pattern of understanding fundamental rules to break down big problems has remained.

I followed my heart all the way to a PhD in mathematical physics where I discovered the beauty of diagrammatic algebras: equations made out of squiggly diagrams.

My decision to pursue a career in maths came during my second year of university. I had been studying engineering, which I believed to be a more stable career choice, but after a year and a half I couldn’t get excited about any of the engineering specialisations. My Mum encouraged me to follow my heart and study mathematics: study what you love and you’ll figure out the work later, she advised. I followed my heart all the way to a PhD in mathematical physics where I discovered the beauty of diagrammatic algebras: equations made out of squiggly diagrams.

After a two-year postdoc in Italy, I decided to make the switch from academia to follow a career in data science. I had avoided any statistics and probability in my university studies, because they were not topics I enjoyed in high school, but I soon learned how interesting randomness is and how useful it is for understanding the world. I was lucky enough to land a dream job at Data61, the data analytics unit of CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency. Since then I have been working on industry projects, solving applied problems in the areas of manufacturing, wildfires and public policy with statistics and machine learning. I love that even after this career change, I can still use my mathematical thinking to break problems down into their essential ingredients and solve them step by step.

Reflecting on my path from education to employment, I have learnt that careers don’t have to follow a clear and straight path.

Reflecting on my path from education to employment, I have learnt that careers don’t have to follow a clear and straight path. I have learnt that following your dreams can be a good option, but it isn’t the only one, and that trying out adjacent areas of work that are in-demand can lead to a fulfilling occupation. I have also learnt that an important output of your studies is the ability to teach yourself new skills, because flexibility is a valuable skill in the workforce – plus learning new skills keeps your work interesting.

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Marina Murillo

Marina Murillo

Born in Cádiz, Spain • Birth year 1987 • Studied Mathematics at Universidad de Cádiz, Spain • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in Valencia, Spain • Associate Professor of Mathematics at Universitat Politècnica de València

Ever since I was in high school, I realized that I wanted to pursue a degree in science. Since I was a kid I loved reading mystery novels and discovering the murderer. Soon, I realized that I enjoyed solving problems and exploring their solutions and that was the reason why I studied mathematics. My high school teachers also inspired me and had a lot to do with my decision.

After graduation, I was not totally sure what to do because I had always liked teaching but I also wanted to do research.

At the beginning of my university studies, I was a bit scared because everybody told me mathematics was very different from the way  it was studied at high school. However, I enjoyed studying for my degree a lot and surprisingly, most of my classmates were women. During my university experience I was totally focused on my degree. After graduation, I was not totally sure what to do because I had always liked teaching but I also wanted to do research. So I started my PhD with the objective of being a university professor. I opted for pure mathematics during my PhD and I selected linear dynamical systems as my field of research.

The academic path is very hard. It takes a lot of time to obtain a permanent position and you must make sure you will be willing to live in different cities and not achieve job stability for a long time. However, it has its advantages.

During my PhD, I should say I had some doubts if I was doing the right thing and if I had taken the correct decision. The academic path is very hard. It takes a lot of time to obtain a permanent position and you must make sure you will be willing to live in different cities and not achieve job stability for a long time. However, it has its advantages. You can travel all around the world and meet a lot of people. Despite my doubts, I finished my PhD in three years and I got a postdoc position in Bilbao.

Now, at 33 (years), I am happy to have the opportunity to do what I love, to teach and research, while enjoying a decent salary and the desired stability.

As I mentioned before, I always had in mind my goal of working at the university, so when I had the opportunity to get a temporary position in Castellón I didn’t think about it. I moved there and although I knew that I did not want to spend my whole life there, I followed the necessary steps to achieve my goal. After three years and a long time earlier than I dreamed of, I got a permanent position in Valencia where I studied for my doctorate. Now, at 33 (years), I am happy to have the opportunity to do what I love, to teach and research, while enjoying a decent salary and the desired stability.

During my academic career I have had wonderful experiences and I am pretty sure that I have done the right thing, although I have encountered some difficulties. I have met some high-level mathematicians who treat young students with an air of superiority. This situation can be frustrating and makes you wonder if you are in the right place. However, I have also met some great mathematicians who have helped me a lot.

If I were to give advice to someone who wants to start an academic career, I would suggest that you take some time to think about whether you are willing to sacrifice time to gain some stability and travel around the world.

Mathematics is still a man’s field. Most of the top positions are held by men but, fortunately, today women are gaining prominence. Summing up my experience as a researcher, I can say that it has been positive. If I were to give advice to someone who wants to start an academic career, I would suggest that you take some time to think about whether you are willing to sacrifice time to gain some stability and travel around the world. If the answer is yes, I would definitely recommend that you follow your dream.

Posted by HMS in Stories
Dr Ems Lord

Dr Ems Lord

Born in El Adem, Libya • Studied Pure Mathematics at University of Lancaster, UK • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics Education, University of Cambridge, UK • Lives in Lincolnshire, UK • Occupation Director of NRICH, University of Cambridge

My journey is a story of twists and turns. There never was a grand plan, just a love of maths to help steer the way.

I wasn’t the healthiest of children, I missed more school days than I ever managed to attend. It would have been easy to fall behind in my studies, but my headteacher had different ideas. Textbooks appeared in my home and my mum was roped in as my teacher. Perhaps rather frustratingly for her at times, my curiosity was never satisfied; I always wanted to try different ways of doing things. I loved playing games, but also inventing new maths games too! I’d even collect the numbered cardboard doors off my advent calendar to use in them in my latest creation.  Numbers had a special place in my life from a very early age.

Having decided that maths was the subject I wanted to study at university, the transition from school to university maths was not as straightforward as I hoped; coming from an all-girls school, it was a shock to find myself on a course dominated by boys. I’d never really associated maths as a ‘boys thing’ until that point. Maths had always been something I just enjoyed doing, but perhaps not everyone enjoyed the same opportunities as I had growing up.

Wednesday afternoons at University  were spent on the sports field or at a local teaching college. Although I love sport, my curiosity meant that I eventually tagged along with the teaching group one day – and never turned back! Our tutor challenged everyone to subtract two numbers and record our method – not exactly a tough challenge for soon-to-be maths graduates but I soon discovered that I was the only person in the room to use my chosen approach, and there were two or three other methods in general use around the room. When we were asked to explain our approaches, there was a discussion about ‘milk bottles on doorsteps’ which totally confused me. What did milk bottles have to do with subtraction?  Turns out that the ‘milk bottles’ were place value jottings. No wonder so many people complain that they find maths confusing!

[…] through the college session I realised that my ongoing love for investigating different approaches could be usefully applied to teaching. If someone was struggling or could not understand an approach, I could perhaps suggest another way which might work for them and explain it too.

At the time of that college visit, I was focusing on my thesis exploring the different ways mathematicians had proved the Pythagoras Theorem, and through the college session I realised that my ongoing love for investigating different approaches could be usefully applied to teaching. If someone was struggling or could not understand an approach, I could perhaps suggest another way which might work for them and explain it too (without referring to milk bottles). And, as a female mathematician, perhaps I could be a role model too. Suddenly all the pieces fell into place and I applied for teacher training.

[…] I quickly discovered that hardly any primary schools had a maths graduate on their staff and creativity was often being stifled by a lack of confidence and subject knowledge.

As a maths graduate, I opted for a secondary teacher programme which came with a generous grant for signing-up to teach a shortage subject. Tutors required trainees to spend their first fortnight in a primary school, I quickly discovered that hardly any primary schools had a maths graduate on their staff and creativity was often being stifled by a lack of confidence and subject knowledge. Even though it meant losing my ‘welcome’ grant, I switched to a primary course and I’ve never looked back. Primary teachers are incredibly hard-working individuals who need to cover a wide range of subjects and inspire their charges all day, every day. They are amazing people. I soon found myself leading maths in my school and supporting the teaching of maths in other schools nearby by sharing useful resources. At that time, I became an advocate for the types of maths resources designed by NRICH which challenge and engage young learners.

After joining my local authority’s maths team, I helped to set up schools’ maths competitions and lead parental engagement events – opportunities for families to enjoy problem-solving and rethink commonly-held negative views about maths. By volunteering to lead maths masterclasses introducing some of my favourite undergraduate classes such as topology and networks, I hoped I could also act as a role model for younger female students. Ever curious, I began reading more widely about maths education and signed up for my Masters and later my PhD at Cambridge (where I investigated different approaches to calculation, of course!). Today, my love of maths means that I get to work in one of the world’s finest maths departments at the University of Cambridge, helping to support school teachers to inspire future mathematicians and researching ways to increase diversity in my chosen subject as the Director of NRICH – a project which had inspired my classroom teaching. It’s such a privilege working with the NRICH team, and we’ve got exciting plans for the future. Watch this space!

Posted by HMS in Stories