Industry

Sherli Koshy-Chenthittayil (she/her)

Sherli Koshy-Chenthittayil (she/her)

Born in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates • Birth Year 1983Studied Mathematics at Mahatma Gandhi University in IndiaHighest degree PhD in Mathematics from Clemson University, USALives in Nevada, USAOccupation Data Analyst

I am an applied mathematician and educator with interests in mathematical biology and STEM education. I am also invested in increasing diversity in STEM, particularly, with respect to students with disabilities. As a third culture Malayalee Indian who was born and raised in the Middle East and moved to the States for my PhD, I have had the best of three worlds – India, the Middle East, and the States. In addition to my love for all things related to math, I love books (all kinds), movies, Shahrukh Khan (Hindi actor), K-dramas, and BTS (K-pop group).  My mathematics journey started in school, where I fell in love with the logic and grace of the subject. My other passion was teaching the subject I loved most. It came as no surprise to everyone who knew me that I would pursue a mathematics teaching career.

I moved to India for my bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a master’s degree in mathematics, and even a bachelor’s degree in mathematics education. The theme is clear: I love mathematics. During my degrees, the beauty of proofs, and the varied applications of math spoke to me. I then started my own tutoring center in India and as a tutor in both higher education and K-12, I designed group projects as well as mathematics trivia games to increase inquiry and class participation.

Dealing with accessibility and gender representation in my math classes turned me into an advocate for women and people with disabilities in the STEM fields.

I was born with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy and transitioned to a wheelchair in 2011. I then decided to move to the States for my PhD in applied mathematics. Dealing with accessibility and gender representation in my math classes turned me into an advocate for women and people with disabilities in the STEM fields. Working with like-minded colleagues has helped me realize the power of math in fighting social issues and in self-advocacy.

Leadership positions helped me navigate academia with confidence.

My journey after my PhD took me to Connecticut where I was a postdoctoral scholar. I used mathematical models to investigate biology and education related questions. I also was the President of the postdoctoral council. Leadership positions helped me navigate academia with confidence. Further nuances of the world of math were revealed to me during my postdoctoral tenure. I realized how mathematical models could be developed with constant input from my wet-lab colleagues.

I am looking forward to the discoveries of the versatility of mathematics.

I currently work as a Data Analyst with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Touro University Nevada. My job responsibilities include advising faculty, student and affiliate investigators on research design and analytical approaches to optimize research study quality and providing descriptive and inferential data analysis for a diversity of biomedical, institutional, and educational projects. I am looking forward to the discoveries of the versatility of mathematics.

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Nicola Richmond

Nicola Richmond

Born in UK • Studied Mathematics and Computer Science in Edinburgh, UK • Highest Degree PhD in Algebra and Algebraic Geometry • Lives in London, UK • Occupation VP of AI

As a child, I enjoyed solving logic puzzles and spent a lot of time teaching myself BASIC on a Commodore VIC-20 that my dad had given to my brother for Christmas – my brother wasn’t remotely interested in the computer – I was obsessed by it!

My love for the problem-solving aspects of mathematics was solidified at school. I was lucky to have amazing mathematics teachers who made my learning journey both interesting and enriching. After regularly getting decent marks in school tests, I realised that I also had an aptitude for the subject and specialised early on by taking double mathematics A’ Levels.

(…) The inherent precision and rigour in mathematics helps keep my wandering mind constrained!

I went on to study mathematics as an undergraduate at Edinburgh. While there, I gravitated to pure mathematics – I love the logical nature of abstract mathematics and how concepts and rules can be linked together to develop new ideas and prove theorems – the inherent precision and rigour in mathematics helps keep my wandering mind constrained! I intended to pursue an academic career in mathematics, but with permanent academic positions in short supply, I settled on IT as a sensible Plan B and stayed on at Edinburgh to take an MSc in computer science. After that, I headed to Leeds to study for a PhD in representation theory of finite-dimensional algebras; and this was the end of my pure mathematics adventure – a career involving computing beckoned!

Looking back, there were several junctions along the road where I could have taken a different direction. The first was leaving my IT consultancy role to join Unilever on a two year contract. This introduced me to the world of chemoinformatics which I could link to mathematics by considering molecules as graphs of atoms connected by bonds. When my contract at Unilever came to an end, and with no sign of the recruitment freeze lifting, I decided to go to Sheffield as a post-doctoral researcher to work on developing a (commercialised) approach to facilitate computer-aided drug design.

Just over a decade was in the computational chemistry department, developing methods to find small molecules with medicinal properties.

Following the post-doc, I spent 18 years at GSK. Just over a decade was in the computational chemistry department, developing methods to find small molecules with medicinal properties. I then made an internal move to focus on bringing novel data analytics methods into GSK. This GSK chapter exposed me initially to the world of deep learning and its application to computer vision, and then later to new drug modalities, like antibodies, when I was responsible for a portfolio of digital, data and analytics projects.

The final four-year leg of my GSK journey I spent in the newly-formed AI/ML organisation. There, I learned the virtues of good engineering best practice and agile development, which was excellent preparation for my current role as VP of AI at BenevolentAI. I was also put in charge of building and leading the GSK.ai Fellowship Programme, which ignited a passion for developing, mentoring and nurturing junior staff members.

While I no longer have the opportunity to indulge in pure mathematics, mathematics is omnipresent in what I do.

Now at BenevolentAI, I focus on the company AI strategy and our centre of functional excellence in AI. While I no longer have the opportunity to indulge in pure mathematics, mathematics is omnipresent in what I do. I spend a lot of time reading the AI literature, which really combines probability theory, statistics, linear algebra, calculus and optimisation, and thinking about how we can leverage AI to accelerate drug discovery.

Young students often struggle to visualise how the study of mathematics may translate into practice. Many believe they’ll end up being a banker, an accountant or a mathematics teacher (which are of course worthwhile professions). I never really planned my career-journey, I did what felt right at the time, and I would never have imagined that I’d end up using my skill-set to find life-changing medicines for patients. So here’s my advice: we’re living in challenging economic times, so be flexible and responsive – seek out and embrace new opportunities that play to your strengths; and most importantly, follow your passion for mathematics – it can take you anywhere!

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Lakshmi Chandrasekaran

Lakshmi Chandrasekaran

Born in India • Studied Applied Mathematics at New Jersey Institute of Technology in New Jersey, USA • Highest Degree PhD in Applied Mathematics • Lives in Chicago, USA • Occupation Science communicator and Digital marketer

Growing up in India in the 90s and early 2000s, becoming a software engineer was a rage! The country’s obsession with software engineering was second only to a lucrative career in medicine. Although I went through a similar grind and familial expectations, by the time I finished high school, my mind was fraught with a constant debate between pursuing the software engineering versus physical sciences route such as math or physics – two of my favorite subjects in school. However, not being proficient at writing software codes it was easy to narrow down my choice. Experiencing calculus, vectors and 3D geometry in high school had piqued my interest enough to pursue my Bachelor’s in pure mathematics.

While my passion and curiosity for math never waned all through college, I started to wonder about the practical applicability of math in daily life. To this end, I started researching for universities with an applied mathematics graduate program. My foray into research started as a PhD student at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) where scientists applied math models to explore diverse phenomena ranging from detecting underwater submarines to the complex workings of the human body. These studies exposed me to the repertoire of math and also led me to think why I was oblivious to it until then. Perhaps it was the lack of communication, which stifled a wider appreciation.

I learnt how to translate, synthesize and communicate complex math equations in a manner that the biologists could easily relate to.

After completing my PhD, I did a couple of postdoctoral fellowships, during which I had frequent interactions with our biologist collaborators. I learnt how to translate, synthesize and communicate complex math equations in a manner that the biologists could easily relate to. In a way, I felt this was my first taste of “science communication” that left me wanting for more; since it bothered me persistently that I was still communicating science among scientists. 

At this juncture, I got an opportunity to freelance as a science writer for an online English language newspaper based in Germany – ‘The Munich Eye, (TME). I took this up as a challenge to disseminate science to a wider audience. A few years into this experience made me realize that I was happier communicating science than doing the science myself. I decided to switch gears and pursue a career in science communication. To shore up my science communication skill sets, I pursued a Master’s degree in science journalism at Northwestern University. I have never looked back since then and consider it to be one of my best career decisions.

Something that I encountered quite frequently as a science communicator was that scientists often struggled (or perhaps were reluctant) to be good marketers of their own work.

As a science writer, I freelanced for several popular science online and print outlets, communicating in lay a wide gamut of technical topics from climate change to science policy. I found that my technical expertise and research experience always came in handy when sifting through scientific work and translating them into easy-to-digest summaries. Until recently, I worked at a non-profit organization, communicating dementia science to a diverse set of stakeholders including the general public and donors. 

Something that I encountered quite frequently as a science communicator was that scientists often struggled (or perhaps were reluctant) to be good marketers of their own work. Understandably, part of this fear stems from the philosophy of not wanting to brag about one’s own research findings. However, I found this to be an interesting challenge – how do you then make an obscure field such as STEM also appealing to a lay audience? To this end, I recently completed an online certificate course in digital marketing from Northwestern Kellogg School of Management. I now look forward to applying my digital marketing and communications skill sets to promoting better awareness of science and enhancing public engagement between researchers and the general public.

Although you may think as a PhD you are solely trained to specialize in a niche area, doctoral training provides several useful skill sets (…).

Does all of this mean my PhD degree is not being put to any use? Absolutely not! Although you may think as a PhD you are solely trained to specialize in a niche area, doctoral training provides several useful skill sets such as writing, researching, mentoring, managing projects etc. coupled with professional life hacks such as resilience and tenacity, among others. I find myself regularly applying these handy skill sets in any work setting. I believe my academic background has better prepared me to have a fulfilling career in science communication and marketing in several indirect ways, for which I am forever grateful.

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Amanda Minter

Amanda Minter

Born in UK • Studied Mathematics at Lancaster University in Lancaster, UK • Highest Degree PhD in Infectious Disease Modelling • Lives in UK • Occupation Director of Equations of Disease C.I.C.

Growing up, universities were always a bit of a mystery to me, my parents didn’t go to university. But I was encouraged by my parents and schoolteachers that going to university would be the path for me. I thought that going to university and studying would help me change the world for the better. I enjoyed maths from a young age, it was a subject which came naturally to me. I found the lessons easy, but then at university, studying maths, I struggled.

Whether it was the format of lectures or the more abstract topics, the subject I loved didn’t come naturally anymore. I worried that I had reached my limit in my understanding of mathematics. After a few disappointing grades, I knew something would have to change if I was going to get a good degree. I had to do something different – I had to learn differently. 

I knew with enough time I could figure out most things – or know when it was taking me too long and I should ask for help!

I wasn’t used to having to put effort into learning maths, but now I would attend classes, then practice, read several books, find examples online, until I understood the concept. In those years at university, I learnt how to learn. And it paid off, not just at university, but further down the line as well.

I stayed at my university to do an MSc in Statistics. Although I loved group theory, I wanted to work on something more applied.  Following my MSc, I started a PhD in infectious disease modelling. Studying for a PhD was all about learning new things, and now I had learned how to learn. I knew with enough time I could figure out most things – or know when it was taking me too long and I should ask for help!

In universities I had been aware of being a first-generation university goer and of not having been to private school, and also of being White.

After my PhD, I stayed at university to do research applying mathematics to the problems of global health, but I found myself becoming disillusioned with academia. As a postdoctoral researcher I worked on some amazing mathematical problems and with some great scientists modelling infectious diseases. But I found myself reflecting on my place in global health research. In universities I had been aware of being a first-generation university goer and of not having been to private school, and also of being White. But I never really thought about what it meant to be White, British, and working in global health. 

My definition of success has changed a lot from starting at university and wanting to change the world with maths.

I was motivated to work in infectious disease modelling to use maths for good, but in my role as a postdoctoral researcher I felt I was not helping to support the decolonisation of global health. I decided to leave academia to set up the social enterprise I run now. I aim to create accessible training opportunities for learners in the Global South.

My definition of success has changed a lot from starting at university and wanting to change the world with maths. And to the aspiring mathematicians, the struggling ‘not a mathematicians’: know that the path to success is not linear, or even constant, but something which keeps changing the more you learn.

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Susan Okereke

Susan Okereke

Born in Liverpool, UK • Studied Mathematics and Business Studies at the University of Edinburgh, UK • Highest Degree Master’s in Teaching (MTeach) from the UCL Institute of Education, UK • Lives in London, UK • Occupation maths teacher, maths communicator and education consultant

I love teaching maths! I am a maths communicator and teacher and I passionately believe that numeracy is an essential basic skill that everyone should have – like reading and writing – and every student should leave school competent and confident in it. Sadly, I am aware this is not the case for many students in the UK and I am trying to use my expertise and experience to help improve this situation.

I began to understand the importance maths education plays in society and realised that maths teachers have a crucial role in making the world a fairer place

As a teacher, I have a keen interest in teaching and learning. I believe that teachers should be model learners, so a few years ago, I decided to do a Master’s in Teaching (MTeach) at the UCL Institute of Education. The Master’s looked at what is needed for ‘effective’ learning to take place, exploring the complex relationship between learner, teacher and their environment. It opened my eyes to how education can transform people’s lives, especially maths education. I began to understand the importance maths education plays in society and realised that maths teachers have a crucial role in making the world a fairer place, with recent data by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing a direct relationship between wage distribution and numeracy skills.

My Master’s dissertation analysed the effectiveness of a targeted maths intervention on students’ attainment and reflected on the challenges secondary schools face when implementing interventions. Working on my dissertation clarified the fact that I want to use my expertise to bridge the gap between primary, secondary and further education maths learning, supporting all students to feel confident in maths, especially our most disadvantaged students. I believe the key to bridging this gap is to ensure all students have solid basic maths skills and a positive attitude to maths and this starts with good maths teaching.

Completing my Master’s ignited my interest in finding ways to present maths that are accessible and engaging for everyone, especially people who find it challenging. My work as a maths communicator is an extension of this mission.

Maths has a reputation for being boring, difficult and irrelevant to people’s lives and many people are intimidated by the subject because they believe ‘you are either right or wrong’ and that is all that matters. I’m on a mission to challenge this common misconception. Maths is so much more than the final correct answer, it is about seeing patterns, making connections and solving problems, which is an emotional and collaborative process and can be a lot of fun.

Completing my Master’s ignited my interest in finding ways to present maths that are accessible and engaging for everyone, especially people who find it challenging. My work as a maths communicator is an extension of this mission. Over the years I have been involved in a variety of amazing maths events and projects for students, teachers and the general public. Events that strive to bring maths to life for audiences by highlighting the weird and wonderful places maths can be found, which I share on my blog www.DoTheMathsThing.com. Also, the podcast Maths Appeal I co-host with TV personality and fellow maths teacher, Bobby Seagull, presents maths in an accessible way by including maths puzzles and interviews with maths champions from the worlds of tech, entertainment, comedy and education.

Engaging in this range of maths-based endeavours has made me realise I am on a lifelong learning journey with maths education and I hope to take my students, listeners and readers with me as I try to show that maths is everywhere and for everyone.

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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
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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Carolin Dirks

Carolin Dirks

Born in Steinfurt, Germany • Studied Maths at the University of Münster, Germany • Highest Degree Doctorate in Maths • Lives in Steinfurt, Germany • Occupation Software Developer at LVM Versicherung (insurance company)

When I started studying maths, I was frequently asked what I was planning to do after graduating. “Who wants to hire a mathematician? Do you want to end up in a boring job working in the financial sector or in an insurance?” Of course, like most of my fellow students, I did not have a satisfying answer to these questions. Today, after several years of studying and struggling with lots of formulas, proofs and theorems, I have learned two very important lessons: First, that there are thousands of opportunities in very different branches of industry and academia a mathematician can take, and second, that having an inspiring and exciting job and working for an insurance is not a contradiction.

And what came next finally took me to the decision to stay with maths for the rest of my life: I realised that I was not the worst student (though not the best either), and I was fascinated by the clarity and pure logic of mathematical problems, forming a huge contrast to the, in my opinion, very unclear analysis of poems and classic literature (sorry to those who would disagree with this point).

In my experience, studying maths is a decision made out of the interest for logical structures, for clarity and puzzles, but not for a particular future job. Unlike many others, the presence of this interest was not clear to me until I reached the last years of high school. Thus I cannot claim that I had always been fascinated by mathematics, though I was never a bad student, my interests lay elsewhere – largely in learning languages, which I still try to spend some time with beside my current job. This changed due to a sudden and, at least in retrospect, very fortunate coincidence: When I had to choose my advanced courses for my last two years at school (every German academic high school student has to decide for two), due to organisational reasons I ended up in the advanced maths class. For a few weeks, I was quite depressed, being sure that I would be the most stupid student next to all those maths geniuses. And what came next finally took me to the decision to stay with maths for the rest of my life: I realised that I was not the worst student (though not the best either), and I was fascinated by the clarity and pure logic of mathematical problems, forming a huge contrast to the, in my opinion, very unclear analysis of poems and classic literature (sorry to those who would disagree with this point). Out of this fascination I finally made the decision to study maths, without having a specific career aspiration and even without having any idea about possible careers.

Although in my opinion, society made great progress in overcoming gender-specific obstacles, I also made the experience that women interested in computer stuff are still a bit unusual. This caused me to be suspicious – would I be good enough, would I be able to establish myself in this branch and would I find a job as a mathematician?

At the university, I fought my way through the first few semesters without a specific plan – but instead with lots of very close new friends with the same mind-set, since studying maths is not least a matter of team work. In my fourth semester, I first encountered the field of numerical mathematics, which, roughly speaking, can be explained as the area of intersection between maths and computer science. I realised how closely related these two fields are: Computer science can be used to solve lots of mathematical problems, while every computer program uses the “language” of mathematics and logics. I was fascinated by the variety of applications and decided to concentrate on this field in my further studies. And slowly, very hesitantly in the beginning, I started thinking that maybe I could become a software developer. Hesitantly because up to this point, I never had any points of contact with computer science in my life, not because I was not interested, but simply because it never came to my mind. Although in my opinion, society made great progress in overcoming gender-specific obstacles, I also made the experience that women interested in computer stuff are still a bit unusual. This caused me to be suspicious – would I be good enough, would I be able to establish myself in this branch and would I find a job as a mathematician? To find the answers to all these questions, I needed to try it out – so I tried, and it was worth it.

Before this rough idea could emerge to a specific plan, a few more years had to pass by. After graduating, I was still insecure about what I wanted to be. Not only, but also not at least in order to postpone a “final” decision, I decided to stay at the university and do a PhD, despite again fighting with my doubts of being good enough. This turned out to be a great idea – I was now able to contribute my own ideas and, in this way, further develop my interests and strengths, all the time attended by a great, supporting and understanding scientist. And although I was for sure not the best student (thanks to my supervisor’s patience at this point), I finally made it, having learned one of the most important lessons in life: You can do it if you really try.  

At this point in my life, I knew what I wanted: To use my mathematical logical knowledge in combination with my (at this point, quite acceptable) programming skills to contribute to something “tangible”, something someone could really make use of […].

After finishing my PhD (and now, with a particular plan, namely to become a software developer), I applied for my first job outside of academia. At this point in my life, I knew what I wanted: To use my mathematical logical knowledge in combination with my (at this point, quite acceptable) programming skills to contribute to something “tangible”, something someone could really make use of (sadly this is something missed by many maths students during their studies). The explicit sector was not important for me, since I found for myself that those really deep and specific programming problems are fascinating no matter if the application behind is just a web-enabled water boiler. So I thought, why not an insurance company? The job advertisement sounded very interesting. The company was looking for developers for a completely new contract software, which would be used by the insurance agencies all over Germany. This promised not to be the boring insurance job every first-year maths student is afraid of, so I took the chance. Retrospectively, I am very happy about the path I took, and proud of having had the courage to take it, regardless of my doubts and fears of not being good enough. Although this is something several maths students have in common, most of my former fellow students also share the ability of tenacity, they do not give up easily, but make their way and realise that it works – in the end, the struggle was worth it and I would strongly recommend to just give it a try.

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Maylin Wartenberg

Maylin Wartenberg

Born in Braunschweig, Germany • Studied Math (diploma) at the Technical University in Braunschweig, Germany • Highest Degree Doctorate in Math (Dr. rer. nat.) • Lives in Meine, Germany • Occupation Professor at the Hochschule Hannover – University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Department of Business Information Systems, Field of Data Science

Analytical thinking has always been easy for me. Therefore, I enjoyed the rules and patterns that occur in math from early on. Luckily, I recovered quickly after the German high school greeted me with the minimum pass mark “adequate” in the first two math exams in 7th grade. In 9th and 10th grade, we had a very strict “old school” teacher who left a lasting impression. We always had to stand up to greet him, and if you used a swear word in class, you had to wash the glasses in the chemistry room during the next break. He was strict, but he liked me and I learned a lot. In 11th grade I spent a high school year in the US and after this year I wanted to take math as one of my advanced courses. That was a tough decision because all I did at the American high school was statistics whereas in Germany everyone had started with curve sketching. After my return to Germany, the first exam in 12th grade was about this topic. I didn’t know anything about it and I had 6 weeks of summer break to study. A former very kind teacher helped me with the material and I studied by myself and achieved a good mark. That was a major milestone to my decision to study math, since I was able to teach myself the topics of almost a whole school year. But I still wasn’t sure. Math or psychology?

After all the ups and downs you typically encounter during this phase – 3 years for me – I finished my doctoral thesis in math (graph theory) two weeks before my first daughter was born.

Both sounded very attractive to my 19-year-old self. The plans to move to Braunschweig with two of my friends were already settled and I finally chose math because it was giving me a wider range of options on what future opportunities to follow – because I had no clue what to do after my studies at that point. In the beginning we were quite a few students, but in the end only 4 of us were left in pure math – 25% women 😉. I chose most of my courses in abstract math – algebra, combinatorics – and did as little applied math as possible. I really enjoyed the study of group and ring structures and the book Algebra by Serge Lang was always by my side. I already dreamed of becoming a professor myself.

Yet, in the end, the question what to do with all the knowledge I gained crept more and more into my consciousness. That is why I didn’t pursue a strictly academic career, nevertheless I still wanted to secure the option, and chose a PHD position in business at Bosch (formerly Blaupunkt) in Hildesheim. No more group and ring theory, suddenly I had to write code in C++ for algorithms in navigation systems. I had avoided any computer science so far, thus, I was thrown in at the deep end. But I never regretted this step because I discovered that coding is not all at all as difficult as I thought – after all it’s logical – and I learned a lot about working in a bigger company. After all the ups and downs you typically encounter during this phase – 3 years for me – I finished my doctoral thesis in math (graph theory) two weeks before my first daughter was born.

I found the fitting position where I can combine my passion for analytical thinking, my academic background, and my work experience (…).

I stayed home with her and somehow managed the defence of my doctoral thesies with a 5-month-old baby and still deprived of decent sleep. After 8 or 9 months at home, my brain started asking to be challenged again, and I began to apply for jobs in industry. As a young mother I wanted to start part time, but as a woman holding a doctorate in mathematics that was not as easy to get as I hoped. After a long search, including several offers with 40 hours and more, I was finally rewarded by starting a job at VW Financial Services. My one-year-old daughter was able to stay at the company’s own childcare facility and I started with 27 hours a week as a systems analyst in the business intelligence department in IT. In almost 10 years I made my way from analyst, to project lead, to team lead all the way to head of two sub-departments and got enrolled in the management trainee program – most of this in part time including a maternity leave when I had my second daughter in between. Then, suddenly, another option which had gotten a little out of sight but was still a silent dream popped back in.

And that is my way to my current position as a professor in business computing, especially data science. I found the fitting position where I can combine my passion for analytical thinking, my academic background, and my work experience – all of that with the advantage of being my own boss, still doing interesting projects with different companies, giving talks about AI for lay audiences (schools, senior clubs, …), and guiding young people on part of their own story.

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Natasha Karp

Natasha Karp

Born in United Kingdom • Birth year 1974 • Studied Biochemistry at Warwick University in United Kingdom • Highest Degree PhD in Chemistry from University of London • Lives in Cambridge, United Kingdom • Occupation Director Biostatistics at AstraZeneca

I really struggled at school in the early years, particularly with reading and writing; but then when I was around 12, it started to make sense. I was formally diagnosed as being dyslexic when I went to university, I guess when I was 12  things clicked into place as I found my strategies to get round my dyslexia. Those early years of struggling and being in bottom sets has left me with feelings of doubt but also a drive to prove people wrong. At 16, I selected mathematics with statistics, biology and chemistry as my specialist subjects and got the highest grades possible. I really enjoyed statistics and mathematics, and used to do extra work for fun. However, it was taught as a theoretical subject and I had no sense of what you could do with it. I also had no role models; I am the only person in my family to graduate from university. If you were a clever woman, you became a teacher or a doctor. Being a doctor didn’t appeal, so teaching became the ambition and I decided to study biochemistry with a year in industry at Warwick University and graduated with a first-class degree.

After I conducted some experiments, I felt the mathematical techniques used to make decisions were poor. Consequently, I started studying statistics (…).

I really enjoyed my year in industry, where I learnt the fundamentals of research, but after years of conditioning that my path was to be a teacher, I then trained as a secondary school teacher. After a couple of years teaching, I realised that I didn’t feel satisfied intellectually. I was working hard but didn’t feel I was growing. I decided to return to science and was offered a role back with the industrial placement company who sponsored me to complete a PhD in partnership with Imperial College, London. Unfortunately, the company folded but I just managed to complete my PhD. My confidence as a scientist felt low, I felt I had snuck in my PhD and I decided to work in academia to prove myself and joined the Cambridge Centre for Proteomics as a post-doc. I was very lucky and given a lot of freedom. After I conducted some experiments, I felt the mathematical techniques used to make decisions were poor. Consequently, I started studying statistics and writing papers exploring experimental design and data analysis for proteomic experiments. I was flying high and had 12 publications but then my first son was born and he was very poorly and I had to prioritise the family. I found a part-time job as a biostatistician with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute supporting in vivo research. It felt like I was starting again but I could meet my family needs and keep working. Over time, my son got better. The new environment gave me new opportunities; for example, I spent some time with database experts who helped me learn to code. I started publishing again in data analysis and experimental design for in vivo research. There wasn’t permanent funding in academia for this type of role so I applied to AstraZeneca, who had just relocated to Cambridge, as a statistician.  

I feel my dyslexia is a strength, as it helps me see the bigger picture, connect ideas and be a better manager.

What am I doing now? I now lead a team of statisticians for AstraZeneca supporting preclinical research. I still work part-time (80%) to meet my family commitments. The work is very varied and we have the opportunity to make a big impact. We jump into projects, assist the scientists, enable their research and then jump to the next project. I find it surreal that I, a self-taught statistician, lead these amazing statisticians. I feel my dyslexia is a strength as it helps me see the bigger picture, connect ideas and be a better manager. As a dyslexic woman who has an unusual career path I bring diversity to the leadership element of my role. I also give lectures around the world on my research topics of interest and get the opportunity to work outside of AstraZeneca on working groups exploring topics such as sex bias or reproducibility. I love my job. It is applied statistics having impact.

As an individual with imposter syndrome, you have to recognise your voice of doubt but not let it control you.

My career path has had many twists and turns. That is real life. There are benefits, I have more experience to draw upon. I feel my journey shows there isn’t one path that is right for you. You should be open to opportunities and change. Change is positive. You do have to be prepared to take risks. As an individual with imposter syndrome, you have to recognise your voice of doubt but not let it control you. From the perspective of maths, data is everywhere, being good with data is such a strength. You don’t have to be a theoretical expert to add value and have impact. Enjoy your journey but don’t expect to know exactly where you are going and keep growing and challenging yourself.

Posted by HMS in Stories