USA

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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Sophie Huiberts

Sophie Huiberts

Born in The Netherlands • Studied Mathematics at the University of Utrecht • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in the USA • Occupation Postdoctoral Researcher

I definitely did not always want to be a mathematician when I was young. I had a great mathematics teacher in high school, who was very enthusiastic about it. Still, I thought that mathematics was a bit boring, as it did not touch upon any of the subjects that interested me as a teenager. However, I did like programming at that time, which I did as a hobby. At some point I found out that the algorithms I programmed also had inventors. For me, that was a real revelation, and being an ‘inventor of algorithms’ seemed like the best job in the world to me! These people were described as mathematicians and computer scientists, so this made it easy for me to choose my majors at university after high school: mathematics and computer science as a double bachelor program in Utrecht.

At some point I found out that the algorithms I programmed also had inventors. For me, that was a real revelation, and being an ‘inventor of algorithms’ seemed like the best job in the world to me!

In my master program I already chose for mathematics over computer science. I found the theoretical aspects of algorithms more interesting than implementing them in practice, on which the computer science degree put a heavy focus. I really liked my master graduation project, so when my thesis supervisor posted a vacancy for his first PhD student, I applied for this position, and that is how I got into research professionally.

These types of algorithms solve optimization problems that can for example create train schedules, allocate personnel to different tasks or design large sports competitions.

Funnily enough, my research now is still about algorithms, so that interest stuck with me. I now focus on a very particular type of algorithms: the ones used in linear programming and integer linear programming. These types of algorithms solve optimization problems that can for example create train schedules, allocate personnel to different tasks or design large sports competitions. In theory, these algorithms can take a very long time to run. Nevertheless, in practice these algorithms are extremely fast. I  investigate how this difference between theory and practice arises, and try to come up with theoretical models that better explain why these algorithms work so well in practice.

I am most proud of my recently published results on the so-called `diameter of random polytopes’. This was an open problem in my area for quite some time, and I solved it as part of a research team. But I am most proud of the fact that this was the first project where I was really in the lead as a scientist. During the beginning of your PhD, you usually rely on your supervisor for guidance, and they often give you problems to work on, broken up into manageable chunks. This was the first time that I really took the lead in a project, and I ended up being the one to give specific tasks to my coauthors to complete. This experience gave me a lot of confidence and made me certain that I would like to remain in academia.

Most postdocs I knew were often stressed by their uncertain and temporary positions. This was not something I wanted for myself.

Even after this positive experience, I was a bit doubtful about the postdoc phase. Most postdocs I knew were often stressed by their uncertain and temporary positions. This was not something I wanted for myself. I therefore decided to only apply to two positions that seemed great to me. If they both would not work out, I would leave academia. One of the positions was here as a Simons fellow at the University of Columbia. Someone I knew asked if they could nominate me for it, and of course I said yes. In the end, I even got offered both positions I applied for, so that made me more certain that I am welcome in the research environment. As a fellow, I have a three year position with a grant and not many obligations. This makes the postdoc experience much more pleasant.

To me, the best part about being a researcher in mathematics is the fact that I am sometimes the first person who finds the solution to a particular problem, the first person ever to know a particular fact. This is a very special experience, and I can be happy about it for weeks. I also really like the fact that I can sit in my office, and just think about a problem for a while without time pressure.

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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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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.

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Pamela  Estephania Harris

Pamela Estephania Harris

Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico • Birth year 1983 Studied Mathematics at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in Milwaukee, WI, USA • Highest degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in North Adams, MA, USA • Occupation Mathematics Professor

My love for math faded during my high school years. Being undocumented, living in the United States was challenging. Even though I was doing well academically, I thought I might never have the opportunity to attend college. I was sad, and at that time I turned to art as an outlet to deal with the challenges I was facing. I spent most of my senior year in high school in an art studio. I spent countless hours learning to draw, paint, and sculpt. I even dropped out of my calculus class just so that I could have more time to do art. I do not regret that choice, even though going a year without math courses hurt my mathematical skills. At the time, I needed something to help me deal with the anxiety and sadness I was experiencing, and art served me well. 

There I had a meeting where my mentor said “when you go to graduate school”. I had no idea what graduate school was, but I knew that if she believed in me, then I should go to graduate school.

After graduating high school, I was able to enter community college. How that was possible is a story for another day, but the main thing is that, upon entering the program, my mathematical skills were well below calculus. My first college math course was intermediate algebra, where I (re?)learned how to factor polynomials. I vividly remember that day’s lesson where the professor said “To factor x^2+5x+6 we need to find two numbers that add to 5 and multiply to 6.” I immediately raised my hand, proudly announcing that numbers did not do that. How can two numbers multiply and add to something different? Luckily, the professor was very kind and she allowed me to think of examples. After discovering that 2 and 3 did the trick, I felt such joy in understanding something that I had taken for granted: numbers are amazing and in fact multiplication and addition are two distinct things! From there my story began to take shape. 

After intermediate algebra I took all of the math courses the community college offered and later transferred to a four-year college to continue studying math. There I had a meeting where my mentor said “when you go to graduate school”. I had no idea what graduate school was, but I knew that if she believed in me, then I should go to graduate school. So, on I went! 

My professional mission is to ensure that mathematics is a welcoming place for everyone, and I am eager to keep working on this for as long as I live.

I always knew that I would like to be a teacher. There is something so beautiful about seeing someone understand something. Most people call that an “aha” moment, and it truly is special. I also knew that education is a path out of poverty and into opportunity. Being an immigrant, I knew firsthand that having options is one key component to a happy life. So, I have always wanted to help others reach their goals and attain their dreams. However, it was not until almost the completion of my PhD that I decided to be a college professor. Finding this as a career option was great because it has allowed me to continue learning while doing research and teaching students. Creating new programs and platforms that provide mentorship and support for students from groups who have been historically excluded from higher education has also been deeply fulfilling. This outreach work keeps me grounded and reminds me that there is still a lot of work to be done in order for everyone to have meaningful and positive experiences with mathematics. My professional mission is to ensure that mathematics is a welcoming place for everyone, and I am eager to keep working on this for as long as I live. 

Throughout those early years I could have used a larger community of support and to see others like me occupy positions and careers like those I had an interest in.

Being an immigrant, previously undocumented, and a Latina woman meant I rarely saw people like me in mathematics. Throughout those early years I could have used a larger community of support and to see others like me occupy positions and careers like those I had an interest in. Sadly, it took a long time to find a community of scholars who shared similar backgrounds and heritage. Yet this motivated much of my past work and inspired me and Drs. Alexander Diaz-Lopez, Alicia Prieto Langarica, and Gabriel Sosa to co-found the organization Lathisms: Latinxs and Hispanics in the Mathematical Sciences. Our goal is to share and amplify the contributions of Latinx/Hispanic scholars in math. We do this through a variety of means including Hispanic Heritage Month (in the US it is celebrated between September 15 and October 15) events, a podcast, and even a new book — Testimonios: Stories of Latinx and Hispanic Mathematicians. The book’s chapters will be freely available one per month starting in September 2021 and our hope is that this book provides a way for those within the community to learn of our stories while also giving advice to those who want to learn more about us and how to support our work. Although there is much work to be done so that those from historically excluded groups feel valued and uplifted in mathematics, I am hopeful that initiatives like Lathisms are making this reality possible.

Links:
Lathisms: Latinxs and Hispanics in the Mathematical Sciences
Testimonios: Stories of Latinx and Hispanic Mathematicians

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