Spain

Tamara Dancheva

Tamara Dancheva

Born in Skopje, North Macedonia Birth year 1993 Studied Computer Science in Skopje and Sweden Master in Computational Engineering from the University of Strasbourg currently a PhD candidate at the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics in Bilbao, Spain

My path to becoming a researcher in applied mathematics has been anything but calculated. My first childhood dream – that I actively started pursuing – was to become a librarian. I was and still am a massive bookworm. At the beginning of primary school, I became part of the library section. I spent nearly all of my school breaks and free time before and after school at the library bookkeeping, sorting books, and taking part in the organization of literary events. By the end of primary school, I started taking part in library competitions and even ranked at the top. Since most likely you wonder what a library competition is, it is about the history of writing, books, libraries, and classification systems to organize library resources. At the same time, I was studious, and I did well in school. I liked maths, but I was much more passionate about literature.

By the time I had to decide on a secondary school, I was old enough to realize that being a librarian or any profession related to it, unfortunately, would not offer me too many prospects in my country. My parents insisted I should go in a general direction first. So I went to a gymnasium. During my secondary school years, my parents got me and my brother our first computer. It became my second passion. Like many other kids at that time, we got obsessed with it, mostly playing video-games, and painstakingly surfing the Internet at a speed of a few kbit per second. For my part, eventually, I became obsessed with how it works. I became determined to learn how to build a computer. And how to develop video games.

That is how I decided to study computer science and engineering. The local university had just opened an independent faculty for computer science, and I became part of its first generation of students. I got to know everything I wanted to know and tried my hand at many different things like computer architecture, algorithms, desktop applications development, system administration, and web development. However, my first two years of university completely changed my relationship with maths for the worse. I had a couple of extremely demanding maths professors that required us to learn whole books of theory by heart. It almost completely stifled my motivation for learning maths.

I took a course on scientific computing with concrete applications in biomedicine that completely turned my life around. That is when I discovered a whole new universe.

In the final semester of my bachelor’s, I was still considering continuing my education with video games development or working as a web developer. Then I took a course on Scientific computing with concrete applications in biomedicine that completely turned my life around. That is when I discovered a whole new universe. Inspired by the classes, I started taking all the courses I could find on Coursera about scientific computing on various topics to see what is out there. I went back to exploring partial differential equations, mathematical modeling, and physics, with different eyes, in much more detail. This time, I saw an infinity of possibilities in the intersection of scientific programming and natural sciences.

I found myself a student again, earning a living by freelancing mostly as a web developer to support my studies.

That is how, to my utmost surprise, after an intense period of finishing my Bachelor’s, simultaneously working as a developer, and applying for master’s degrees, I found myself in Strasbourg. I started studying Computational Mechanics, diving into mathematics and physics with applications in many other fields, such as the mechanics of solids, fluids, hydrology, and geomechanics (the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil). I was reluctant at the time to make this step because it was a radical change for me, and I had made a split-second decision to leave my job at the time. I found myself a student again, earning a living by freelancing mostly as a web developer to support my studies. It was a risky step that I have come to regret during certain difficult times on the way.

Each time I did, I found something that fascinated me and won me back to research. I stuck to it and even continued with a Ph.D. in solid mechanics and high-performance computing. Today there are times when I still doubt my choice. Doing a Ph.D. is an arduous journey (or a labyrinth) that can be very exhausting and equally rewarding, the latter driving me forward.

I realized that the world is an open book, today more than ever, for those that dare to read it. While in the past, it used to be a library, with different books strewn across the globe, not easily accessible to others, today it has merged all into one book. Many times we are the ones that constrain ourselves, not the world around us, as we can make ourselves believe. With time, I have learned to accept uncertainty and volatility as a good thing. I like to think that I have infinite choices. Next year, I could take a project in environmental studies or computational astronomy. I could just as well open a book shop in New Zealand. Chase your passion and dare to go on an adventure!

Posted by HMS in Stories
Carmen-Ana Domínguez Bravo

Carmen-Ana Domínguez Bravo

Born in Cádiz, Spain • Birth year 1987 • Studied Mathematics at University of Seville in Spain • Highest degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in Cádiz, Spain • Occupation lecturer at the Department of Statistics and Operation Research, University of Cádiz

My relationship with mathematics began before I was even born. My father was a high school teacher and so was my grandmother. They both were very enthusiastic about maths and wanted to support our development of mathematical thinking. Despite this, I don’t remember adoring maths when I was a child. What I do remember though is loving books. I spent most of my childhood time reading books, from comics to mystery novels. I devoured every book, and I still do nowadays. As a child I was keen on writing my own stories, I even won a literary contest! But above all, I remember that I wanted to be a teacher. Being a teacher was kind of an obsession, that was enforced by members of my family inspiring my teaching vocation. In addition to my father and my grandmother being high school teachers, my mom was a history, art and geography teacher. My own teachers have always been very inspiring for me too. I have had the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of excellent teachers that fed that vocation. I would say that I wanted to be a teacher since I was a child but I chose the subject to teach later on. 

Above all, I remember that I wanted to be a teacher. Being a teacher was kind of an obsession, that was enforced by members of my family inspiring my teaching vocation.

My sister and I were both good students before University, very good ones. We stood out in our classes even if we did not want to. I imagine that it was also due to the persistence of our parents by instilling good study habits and the passion for knowledge in us. My father was also very (very) insistent on strengthening our analytical thinking and we spent one hour every day of the week during summer vacation solving maths problems. I was not proud of myself. For instance, I wasn’t as good as my sister at doing quick calculations. Nevertheless, for some reason I chose to study mathematics. It might be because maths seemed difficult to me, or because I was influenced by my grandmother and father, or because I wasn’t good at memorising concepts and I thought that in mathematics memorising didn’t seem that important.

Once at the university, during the first year I discovered that mathematics was something totally different from the maths taught in high school. But I enjoyed that the classes were more theoretical and had less quick calculations! I started loving the theory more than the exercises. Every year, I was struggling with a different subject which I had to study during the summer to pass the exam. I felt frustrated, especially in the first year, but I also started to enjoy living in a different city and making new friends. I remember those years as a very special time in my life and I met professors who inspired me a lot.  

I had a very special female professor. Her way of teaching had a great impact on me. Her classes consisted not only of theory, but of open problems, computer practices and teamwork.

During my junior year (our fourth year), some friends and I decided to apply for an Erasmus and we finished our degree in Paris. At that time, I loved numerical calculus and I chose as many subjects in that field as I could. As a maths student, I remember that year as one of the best years ever. I had a very special female professor. Her way of teaching had a great impact on me. Her classes consisted not only of theory, but of open problems, computer practices and teamwork. At the end of that year I decided to continue studying maths and I started to look for PhD grants.

After several applications, I found a PhD position related to maths and solar energy. The research in this context was very applied, more related with cracking the code, developing and implementing algorithms and analysing results. Thanks to this opportunity I was able to study a wide range of algorithms, methods and programming languages, and I also met a lot of fantastic researchers. 

From that point on I knew that teaching, mathematics and coding were a perfect match for me. This is how my journey as a maths teacher and researcher started. This journey has obviously lights and shadows, but my decision remains the same. Nowadays, I am working as a lecturer at the University of Cádiz, where my family lives.  My passion for knowledge, teaching and maths is the same as once my father and my grandmother passed on to me, even though they passed away.

Posted by HMS in Stories