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These testimonials are from current and past staff and students.

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Theresa Abl

PhD Student

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Growing up I had many interests and always loved to learn about new subjects. Maths was not my main focus, I actually wanted to become an artist and in secondary school I enjoyed spending my time studying  history of art and languages. But I also started to realise that my strongest subjects were actually maths and physics and that I had a great time learning about it. I really wanted to understand more about the laws of nature and when we started to discuss quantum mechanics in class I was so  fascinated that I knew I wanted to become a theoretical physicist.

I studied for my undergrad in physics at the University of Technology in Vienna where I focused on theoretical physics and particularly on quantum mechanics and particle physics. I also enjoyed the pure maths modules very much but my main motivation was always a better understanding of physics. I went on to study for my masters degree at ETH Zurich and enjoyed spending most of my time studying quantum field theory and string theory. I also got the chance to do a one year research project in quantum field theory where I studied scattering amplitudes in strongly coupled N=4 super Yang-Mills theory. This is a conformal field theory with maximal supersymmetry which is believed to be exactly solvable. The experience of working on problems that no one else had solved before was incredible and it encouraged me in my decision to work towards an academic career in theoretical physics.

I am now a second year PhD student in the Department of Mathematical Sciences in Durham and I have the chance to spend every day on learning more about mathematical physics and trying to understand more about the fundaments of nature. I am studying aspects of conformal field theories and M-theory which is the most promising candidate to unify all the fundamental forces of nature. This theory is related to a specific six-dimensional conformal field theory with supersymmetry through the so-called AdS/CFT correspondence, which conjectures a duality between certain conformal field theories and string theories in a specific spacetime geometry. We study the six-dimensional conformal field theory using only some fundamental properties of the theory, superconformal and crossing symmetry.

I am enjoying my time as a PhD student very much and feel lucky that I get to spend my days thinking about physics and maths problems.

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Nivedita Agarwal

MSc in Mathematical Finance (2014)

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Young people are often led to believe that they are either born with the ability to do maths or they are not. Interestingly, my first memory of a maths assessment is of an entrance exam at six years of age, which I inevitably failed due to being severely under-prepared. I was eventually allowed to retake the exam, and this in many ways, shaped the next 17 years of my academic life. What began as a pursuit to excel in, quickly turned into a genuine interest I wanted to build upon. I immersed myself in problem solving and honed my mathematical abilities in the process. I firmly believe that given the right environment in which to cultivate one's potential, we all have the capability to become proficient in maths, unlike many creative disciplines.

Having successfully completed A-level Mathematics and Further Mathematics, I secured a place at the London School of Economics to read Mathematics and Economics. Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I naturally steered towards the more mathematical elements of my degree. Upon graduation I began the MSc in Mathematical Sciences here at Durham University, and academically it has been the most rewarding experience to date.

Given my growing interest in finance and the significance of mathematical principles in finance, I recently joined the German stock exchange, Deutsche Boerse Group, within the market data division in their London office. As an index provider, the quantitative component is central to their business and I hope to become a valued member of the team, drawing on my education. My decision to pursue maths at an advanced level has opened many doors, both academic and professional, and has enabled me to learn from and work alongside highly qualified individuals. In the future, I hope to return to academia and research should the right opportunity present itself. I have always identified myself as a mathematician first, and everything else second; I hope this will always be the case regardless of where life takes me.

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Bushra Al Sulaimi

PhD in Applied Mathematics (2017)

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I'm a second year PhD student in numerical analysis, currently doing research in energy stability of thermosolutal convection in porous media.

I was born in Muscat, the capital of Oman. I grew up and got my first education in Samail, in the middle of Oman. I did my BSc and then MSc in maths in Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. I did my master degree in modelling and numerical analysis. Particularly, my MSc thesis was in mathematical biology, I studied the heartbeat model of Zeeman (1972). After my master in 2009, I got a job as a maths lecturer in the Higher College of Technology, Muscat. Three years later, I got a scholarship to further my PhD study abroad. Actually, I got my interest in maths from my fourth grade primary school teacher.

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Camila Caiado

Director of Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Taught Programmes, Professor, Statistics

Camila Caiado staff picture

Everyone has a different reason to become a scientist. As a child, I was often bored so I used to amuse myself by looking at everything as a puzzle or a game. My favourite pastimes were Lego, crosswords, cryptograms, and computer games. School was fairly dull until I was about 12; I wanted the next 5 years to be over as fast as possible so I could apply to the MIT (they have a Lego Lab!). By that point I knew I wanted to be a researcher. Those people lived to solve puzzles and create new things all day, and I wanted to do the same, they can't possibly ever be bored! Eventually school became more interesting when I started studying analytic geometry and geometric drawing: we were finally doing something that involved thinking and problem solving.

I was born and raised in Brasilia, Brazil. Over there, the main focus during high school are university entrance exams which turned out to be quite a fun challenge. Maths and Chemistry were my favourite subjects, and I loathed the ones that relied on memorizing facts like Biology and Literature. I was 16 when it was time to apply for university; I was planning to read Maths, Aeronautic Engineering, or Mechatronic Engineering. That is until one of my maths teachers suggested Statistics after introducing me to decision theory and probability. It turned out that game theory was much more interesting than robotics so, in 2003, I started my BSc in Statistics at the University of Brasilia. During those 3.5 years, I attended every Maths and Stats class I could fit in my timetable and spent the rest of my time in computer labs working on extra projects. I was lucky to find great professors that gave me opportunities to work on research projects and write my own papers from my first year onwards.

When I was near the end of my degree, I started looking for postgraduate opportunities. In Brasilia, the Stats department doesn't have a PhD programme, and the Maths department only had Pure Maths opportunities. So I started looking for the researchers that wrote the papers I found most interesting and departments with the most active Stats groups. And that is how I learned about the existence of Durham! I contacted the department and it turned out that Michael Goldstein and Richard Hobbs (Earth Sciences) had this slightly unorthodox problem involving 3D seismic imaging and they needed a Bayesian Statistician to work on it. I thought this was a great idea, I got to study a bit of Geophysics and apply Bayesian methods to a real problem.

It turns out that many people who arrive at Durham stay until the end of time. I stayed for a 4-year post-doc as part of the Tipping Points project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. This was a highly interdisciplinary project where I got to meet and work with people across multiple departments and developed great partnerships. It turns out that Bayesian Statistics is incredibly useful and novel for a lot of people: economists, anthropologists, engineers, medical doctors. After these 4 years, I was offered a lectureship in Statistics and it looks like I'm one of those that never leave Durham.

My current research involves applying Bayesian methods to a number of different areas. Not only I get to learn a lot of new things in other subjects, and work on neat puzzles and problems, I also get to see how it can potentially help other researchers and the general public. In a partnership with a local engineering team, I get to learn about x-ray imaging and help them build new technologies for the industry. In another project, I work with heart surgeons from the Hospital of South Manchester to design tools for monitoring patients after surgery. Each project brings its own set of challenges and achievements, mostly great puzzles for me to solve. And the MIT dream? I'd rather work in my own Lego lab in my office in Durham with a view of the Cathedral.

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Ilke Canakci


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My interest in mathematics has gradually developed during my studies. I have always been fascinated by intricate problems that have solutions given by a simple idea. Having had education in a classical style in primary and secondary school where students are being marked on the final answer, I was not always the one with the highest scores in class. However, when it comes to problems that require analytical thinking rather than simple computations, I would stand out. Looking back, I realize that I have always had a good understanding of abstract concepts and their structural layout.

I did my first degree in Istanbul, Turkey. Although I did well overall and graduated with better grades then my peers, I was not confident enough that I could pursue a career in mathematics. Besides, I had other interests like languages, philosophy, sociology or fine arts. I started a degree in philosophy, took German classes and did part-time jobs like tutoring or assisting artists and fine art exhibitions. But one day I had this strong disposition that I actually miss doing maths. This is how my postgraduate story started. I did my PhD in the United States and had a 2-year post-doc position at the University of Leicester. Currently, I hold a 2 year post-doc position at Durham University. My research interests include topics from representation theory, algebraic combinatorics and topology. Up to this point in my career, I am an enthusiast of the sheer beauty of mathematics.

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Long Chen


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I am a postdoctoral researcher in the applied maths group. My journey in mathematics started when I was a teenager. I was deeply attracted by the internal beauty of equations. One summer I was invited to attend a maths camp, which turned out to be the best time I ever had during adolescence. Since then I decided to study mathematical sciences at university. I finished my studies with a BSc in joint honours mathematics and physics, an MSc in high energy physics and a PhD in geophysics, before starting to work at Durham University.

As different as it sounds, these subjects are all built up upon similar basic mathematical principles. Today mathematics is not only about number theory or geometry -- classical subjects that people commonly associate with mathematics -- but rather it is a rich collection of topics ranging from abstract theorems to concrete industrial solutions. There are so many topics that are simply fascinating, and they lead to ample opportunities for research. It is a privilege and also an honour to continue my journey in Durham. I hope people will not remember me just as a woman -- I hope they will identify me by my work.

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Sophy Darwin

Assistant Professor (Teaching)

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I did double Maths and English at A-Level, but was more excited about the English, which I studied with most of my friends. A better mark in English helped me decide to do English at Cambridge, but there it seemed expected that one adopt a specific approach; feminist, Marxist, structuralist,... How could I do this and still tell the whole truth? I had already learned to value the clarity and certainty of maths.

Having helped friends and relatives, I knew I was good at, and enjoyed, explaining maths. So I did a Secondary PGCE with Maths, at the College of St Paul and St Mary in Cheltenham. (Among the ten students on my course, only one had a whole degree in Maths.) I narrowly survived my teaching practice but knew by the end of the year that I wanted to learn more maths.

My future husband Simon Morris was moving to Arizona for a postdoc. in astronomy, so I was ready to go abroad. After a year of short-term teaching in London I started a Maths PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, where I had lived as a child. This was jumping in at the deep end; I floundered in new ideas, terminology and notation - at my first Real Analysis lecture I heard `metric space' as `matrix base'! But after two years, and an undergrad. Analysis course at Hunter College which taught me about proof, I felt I had roughly caught up with my classmates.

By this point Simon had another postdoc. in Pasadena, and we were engaged. So I transferred to UCLA, taking five more years to finish my PhD; my thesis was on difference sets, a kind of block design, and my kind and omniscient adviser was Basil Gordon. Meanwhile, as a teaching assistant, I had filled in many of the gaps in my undergraduate maths, winning a `Distinguished T.A.' award in the process. Two days a week I was explaining maths I understood well; three (or four) I was struggling to extend my own understanding. This alternation suited me perfectly.

Next, Simon's work took us briefly back to Cambridge and then to Victoria BC, on the west coast of Canada, where our two daughters were born. I knew that I wanted children, and to spend time with them; a full academic career looked daunting in itself, and hard to fit round Simon's. However the University of Victoria immediately approached me about part-time lecturing, and I did this, roughly every other semester, for seven years, with an extra year off for each baby. Again it suited me to split my time, but now between teaching and mothering.

Two years after we moved to Durham, the Maths Department asked me to lecture, and I have now been teaching here for 12 years. This year, with our daughters gone to university, I am a full-time Teaching Fellow. I am still enjoying teaching appreciative and friendly students, and learning a little more maths as I go along.

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Sarah Edwards

Risk Analyst

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I was born and lived on the Isle of Man (small island in the Irish Sea with tail-less cats and motorbike races, for those who don’t know). When I was small I always enjoyed maths, mostly because it was something that I felt I was good at. My enjoyment of maths carried on until I was about 14 and then I began to lose interest. I wanted to pursue a career in art and fashion and I seriously considered not taking maths to a higher level and I probably only did so after encouragement from my parents! However, as soon as I entered the sixth form and started taking Higher level maths as part of the International Baccalaureate I knew that this was what I wanted to do. Maths had moved away from number crunching to something much more beautiful!

I went on to do my undergraduate degree in Maths at the University of St Andrews and during this time I undertook an undergraduate summer research project in the Solar and Magnetospheric Theory group there. I got to really love applied maths and using mathematics to understand the world around us.

I chose to stay in St Andrews to study for my PhD again in applied maths with the Solar group and worked hard to finish this in just under 3 years. I moved to Durham University to continue my research into Solar magnetic fields as a postdoc. The nature of postdoctoral research is such that to get a position you need to be geographically flexible and I realised at this point that living apart from my husband was not for me so I left my academic post to pursue a career in finance.

Working as a risk analyst at a bank is a very rewarding job. It is fun to work on problems where you can see directly how your work is put into practice. I work in a department where the chief activity is building models so statistical knowledge is always coming into play. The analytical skills I acquired during my PhD have been invaluable and the stability and structure make it a fantastic alternative to academia for anyone studying a numerical or statistical discipline.

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Michela Egidi

PhD in Mathematics (2015)

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I was born in Italy, in a town nearby the Adriatic sea. As far as my memories allow me, I always remember myself to be good at two things: swimming and maths. Strangely, both of these things come from... nowhere! My mum says I was having great fun at every bath when I was a baby and that it was (and it still is) impossible to keep me far away from the sea in summer. In the same way, I have loved maths since I was in primary school, it was pure love at first sight. I was good at it and everything was logic and clear.

I decided to study mathematics at university because of one of my maths teachers in high school. I have a very clear memory of him: he was the best teacher I had ever had back then, he was prepared, he was clever. He thought maths in such a good way, it made me hungry of knowing more and more. At the end of my high school I enrolled in a degree in Mathematics in Bologna and there I studied until my master. In between I spent a year in Durham as an Erasmus student. After that, I applied for a PhD in Durham .

I can't say I have enjoyed my PhD every single day, sometimes it can be so bad you just want to turn your life upside down and be an artist, but then you think about how rewarding it is to solve a problem or to get nice results or to check that things behave nicely as the logic suggests, and you know you can't possibly be nothing else than a mathematician. After all, the first love can never be forgotten.

I have now completed my PhD in Pure Mathematics, working in Differential Geometry and Spectral Theory of Operators, and the reward for the hard work of these three years is a postdoc position in Chemnitz, Germany. A new adventure is about to start!

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Anna Felikson

Professor, Geometry

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I was born in Moscow, in Soviet Union. At the age of 13 I entered a specialised mathematical school. Those days, that was just a way for me to escape from my local school. It turned out that when taught by enthusiasts in a nice environment you start to like the things yourself. In particular, I remember from those days that I was impressed by the feeling when you solve a geometric problem: you start in a mist knowing just a couple of the details about some geometrical configuration, you try to think - and suddenly you see all the picture very precisely - and you never can catch this jump between the mist and the clear picture!

Later on I studied Mathematics in Moscow State University (MSU) as well as in Independent University of Moscow (IUM) - the former to make sure I get a classical education together with world-renown certificate, the latter to get in touch with more modern "alive" mathematics, to see numerous world-leading experts and to enjoy that unforgettable atmosphere of IUM.

After defending my PhD (on hyperbolic geometry and discrete groups) I have suddenly discovered that it is not always enough just to work on some problems, but one also needs to have some affiliation. Next years I spent moving from one postdoc to another, that included Fribourg (Switzerland), MPI Bonn (Germany), then Fribourg again, IHES (France), back to MPI Bonn, Bremen. Since 2013, I am a lecturer in Durham, and I feel really at home here - both due to nice people at the Department and to the picture of hyperbolic plane in the entrance hall.

Currently, I am doing a mixture of geometry, combinatorics and algebra, or more precisely, I work on cluster algebras - a recently emerging theory where numerous fields of mathematics and mathematical physics are interlaced.

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Carla Ferreira


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During my childhood, I always enjoyed science areas, especially mathematics and physics. I grew up in a family that worked on building large structures, such as dams, tunnels and so on. Actually, I was born is a small (really tiny) city up to the north of Brazil where my father helped build one of the biggest hydroelectric power plants, maybe this environment increased my curiosity about how things worked.

When I was 16 years old, I needed to face the tough decision of which area to choose for my undergrad. The only thing I was sure is that it would be related to math or physics! Following my family tradition, I chose Civil Engineering, which was great! However, when I finished, I realized that I needed more knowledge. At that time I noticed that I had some researcher characteristics such as curiosity, open-mindedness, analytical mindset and also wanted to discover new different places. So, soon after receiving my undergrad certificate, I moved away from my family to do my Master in one of the top universities in Brazil, the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA). I faced several challenges during this period that made me grow professionally and as a person. Meanwhile, I also realized that I'd like to use my knowledge to solve tangible problems.

After working for two years in a civil construction company, helping planning some important infrastructure projects in Brazil, a friend of mine introduced me to a new and exciting area, which was the Oil Industry. He has worked in a Research and Development department and we discussed how this area is full of challenges and need for new technologies and process to make routine workflows more effective and efficient. That's when I decided to apply for a Ph.D. at the State University of Campinas. It was all new again, which I found fascinating! It was during the Ph.D. that I got the opportunity to come to Durham as a visitor for 4 months with the Statistic group. It was a short but amazing time, where I learned a lot and made new friends.

Following my Ph.D., I have worked for almost four years in a Research Centre for Petroleum Studies. One of the Centre projects needed a post-doc to come to Durham and work in a joint project that evolves petroleum and statistic areas. I was more than happy to be accepted and here I am, back to Durham (and with a 2 year old son)! My current research involves applying Bayesian methods to improve history matching and uncertainty analysis of reservoir simulation models; these computer models are essential in the development and management of oil reservoirs.

Even though my background is engineering, I have never feared to accept a new challenge and learn a new subject. Being part of the Maths Department has been great, I've been learning a lot and am able to apply this new knowledge in this interdisciplinary project.

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Alice Fletcher

BSc Mathematics (2015)

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While I was doing my A' levels at College, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do later in life and what sort of career I wanted to follow. However, I knew that maths would open up a huge variety of opportunities for me, which is one of the reasons why I chose to study maths at University.

I was a 6th form student at Prior Pursglove College in Guisborough, 8 miles South-East of Middlesborough, and had the great opportunity to take part in the `Supported Progression' scheme for talented students studying in the North East, Cumbria and West Yorkshire. I came to Durham University for the first time during the Easter break 2011, and was accommodated in St Aidan's College, which gave me a good idea of what College life could be. I returned in July 2011 for the one-week Supported Progression Summer School organised by the Maths Department. Although I found the Maths hard - I realised quickly that the reason for this was that, at the time of the School, we had not yet been taught any of the Further Maths syllabus in my College, while other participants had already had a stab at it - I did find the strength to persevere and handed in my homework within the 3 weeks following the School, as required. On the basis of my performance, I received a conditional AAB offer to study Maths at Durham (the standard offer is A*AA).

If it had not been for the Supported Progression scheme, I would have not applied to Durham because I lacked confidence, and thought Durham was `out of my league'. The rest is history: I did very well in my A' levels and I joined Josephine Butler College in October 2012 to start my BSc in Mathematics degree at Durham. I slipped into the College system effortlessly. I particularly enjoyed freshers' week because it is fantastic opportunity to form groups of friends for life, which helps considerably academically and socially.

I am now a final year student busy wrapping up my end of year project, and discover that I have picked up a lot of valuable skills alongside academic knowledge during my studies. These skills have had a chance to develop thanks to opportunities in the Maths Department, in my college and during an internship at Rolls Royce in Derby last summer. There, my background in mathematics helped me organise teams, apply my logical skills, manage the time of others, build my confidence to the point that I have decided to apply for an MSc in Design and Manufacturing Engineering. My secret hope is to eventually return to Rolls Royce and join their 2-year graduate programme with extended internship, having had the most enjoyable experience last year.

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Helena Formentin

PhD Student

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Why did I come to mathematics? It is not a linear path, which makes me believe that my curiosity, openness to challenges and willing to cooperate with people are what bring me here!

My first choice was to become a mechanical engineer. It was natural: during the school, I had results above average in maths, physics, and chemistry, and mechanical engineering at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (my alma mater) is evaluated as one of the best courses in Brazil. Later on, I discovered it was my mother’s dream to become an engineer.

During my undergraduate studies, I was very active in several opportunities that a University offers: internships, language courses, exchange programs, volunteering experiences. One activity notably supported me to take my second big choice: being part of the Baja team (a team of students constructing off-road vehicles for university competitions).

These experiences and all I could develop with them opened doors in the industry: an internship in project management of prototype vehicles in the Renault’s Centre of Development, France; an internship in production technology in the Fraunhofer Institute, Germany; and a master of sciences in Transport and Sustainable Development in ParisTech.

Very little to do with maths, but this period of my life was fundamental: it opened my mind to the international, showed me how I enjoyed working with people and made me realise nothing is impossible when we have good will.

I worked in DHL Supply Chain for a while: a great experience, with great people in a great company. Very early, I observed that this path would be great, but would keep me away from the technical roots. I compromised several aspects while making the difficult decision to leave an environment I admired so much.

From my period in ParisTech, I took the fundamentals to understand that the energy sector is particularly shaping the future of society. Besides being a very relevant source of energy for the world, I took that working in the oil and gas industry also provides the opportunity to work with people from different technical and cultural backgrounds. Particularly in the last ten years, I have seen that this industry is under a revolution, which is mainly related to the affordability of assets in the long term and the use of data to create value (The digitalisation). I believe this industry will continue being challenged for several decades and I want to contribute to it.

After a master degree from Heriot-Watt University, this vision motivated me to dive in a nearly new world, Statistics. Currently, I am in the fourth year of a dual-PhD programme, working in a joint project between Durham University and University of Campinas, in Brazil. Within a team of specialists from statistics and reservoir engineering, I develop methodologies to reduce uncertainty in reservoir models. The integration of data to calibrate reservoir models provides a better basis for decision-making. With the work produced for my thesis, I expect to contribute with the application of statistical techniques to calibrate reservoir models. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work in such an interesting technical context, within a healthy and motivating environment, full of challenges but also surrounded by good people, with good will!

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Ruth Gregory


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Amazingly for an academic, I am now working just a few miles from where I was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne! I grew up in the North East, and went to Dame Allan's school in Fenham. I was always interested in numbers and how things worked. Thanks to my Mother and going to a Girl's school, I was oblivious to any notion of doors being blocked in science, and luckily lived at a time they were opening.

I'd like to say I was a model student, but in fact I drifted a bit at school, not really having a goal. But at 15, when reading a popular science book on relativity, I read a paragraph about the search for an ultimate theory and knew immediately that was what I wanted to do. From that point on, I was very engaged at school (though still not a model student!), learned Relativity properly, and that is what I still do!

My academic path was to go to Trinity College, Cambridge, and study Mathematics. I was one of only two girls in my year in Trinity, and it was only the third year the college had accepted women - many other colleges at that time still did not. It was a brilliant environment; the Maths Tripos was fantastic, and particularly good for people who wanted to explore mathematics and theoretical physics. In fact, in 1982 while still an undergraduate I went to some graduate lectures by Stephen Hawking on Inflation, then a brand new theory! Perhaps that was my inspiration to study Particle Cosmology, but in any case, I did my PhD in the Relativity group - it was right after Stephen's Geneva episode, so we had to first learn to communicate using the children's magnetic letter board, then be amazed by the (then groundbreaking) synthesised voice. He used to have a woman's voice, which he would wickedly use for a laugh!

I then went to Chicago for five years as a postdoctoral researcher, spending three years at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and two years as a MacCormick fellow at the Fermi Institute in the University of Chicago. I returned to the UK with a five-year PPARC Advanced Fellowship at DAMTP, and subsequently moved to Durham with a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, and became a Professor of Mathematics and Physics in 2005 (I am 50-50 between the Mathematics and Physics departments).

In 2006, I was awarded the Maxwell Medal by the Institute of Physics for my research in Theoretical Physics. My best known result is the Gregory-Laflamme Instability, describing an instability of black strings in higher dimensions. I am interested in any unusual aspects of gravity be they in atomic physics, the early universe or string theory.

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Bethany Heath

BSc Student

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As a second year mathematician, my journey towards a maths degree has been far from direct. Although I really enjoyed maths at school, I did not consider studying maths at university. I did not seem to fit with the stereotype I had developed of mathematicians in my head. I feared being surrounded by male maths geniuses and not being able to cope. At school, I was one of two girls in my Further Maths class. The vast majority of my maths teachers were male and my other friends seemed to be more attracted to subjects such as medicine, biology or the humanities.

At school, I started out with the idea of medicine, which meant that Chemistry and Biology were priority subjects on top of lots of extra-curricular volunteering in order to gain a university place. However, the more I found about medicine, the more I realised that it didn’t really fit with my love of maths and an increasing desire for maths to be a major part of what I do on a regular basis. It became clearer that a medicine degree was not the right path for me, and the area of epidemiology – which involves the mathematical analysis of disease – seemed a much better fit. I opted for the Natural Sciences degree at Durham as it allowed me to combine maths and biology and keep my options open.

As I progressed in my first year, I realised that I was enjoying maths much more than biology. I made the decision to switch to the maths undergraduate degree and have not looked back since.

While at Durham, I applied for, and secured, a Laidlaw Scholarship, which is providing the opportunity to apply what I learn in maths (particularly statistics) to a real-world research project. I currently spend my holidays undertaking research on dementia, working with researchers at Durham to identify the link between education and risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

I now sit on the EDI Committee and hope to highlight equality issues. I volunteer at a local Durham school, helping A-Level Further Maths students, and like to return to my school to encourage more students, particularly girls, to take up maths. The more I progress in maths, the more I realise there is something for everyone, with enormous applications to many areas. There is certainly not just one type of mathematician and there are substantial opportunities for female mathematicians to thrive.

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Kate Horner

SPOCK Postdoc

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I grew up in Suffolk, not far from Cambridge. I have a brother who is responsible for my love of science. When I was about 8, he was studying for his GCSEs and one day in the car he was trying to entertain me on the journey (probably so I would stop annoying him). He started to tell me about these strange things called subatomic particles and explained how the sun burned. Well, I was hooked! I asked for science books for Christmas that year (which I got) and soon got Chemistry and Physics experiment sets as well. He wanted me to study physics, which was his passion, but I got dazzled by the bright lights of chemistry and many years later, I applied to study chemistry at university.

I did a four year integrated Master's degree in chemistry at the University of York. I always thought I would go into synthetic chemistry (that's making molecules in the lab) with a particular penchant for polymers, but early in my degree I discovered the wonders of physical chemistry, especially quantum chemistry. I quickly became fascinated by all things computational and theoretical chemistry which resulted in carrying out my Master's project in ab initio magnetic shielding calculations with Peter Karadakov. This love only grew and I was lucky enough to do my PhD in the same field, again at the University of York with Peter Karadakov.

During my PhD I did a large amount of undergraduate teaching, both chemistry and maths. Being able to discuss chemistry with such a variety of students and help shape them into (hopefully) future world-leading scientists was a real privilege and very inspiring. For this teaching I was awarded the Chemistry Outstanding Demonstrator of the Year award by the chemistry department, the Demonstrator of the Year award by the university student's union and the Vice-Chancellor's Teaching Award by the university, the latter of which had not been won by a chemistry demonstrator before. I also got involved in science communication, writing for the online science magazine, Experimentation. Throughout my PhD I wrote many science articles and progressed to become Physical Sciences editor, followed by Editor-in-Chief, a position which I still hold now. But of course I still did research! I continued my Master's work studying aromatic and antiaromatic molecules as well as chemical bonding by using magnetic shielding calculations. At the end of my PhD I was awarded the Kathleen Mary Stott prize for excellence in research and science communication.

Fast forward to the present and I am currently here at Durham working as a postdoctoral research associate for Paul Sutcliffe in the SPOCK (Scientific Properties of Complex Knots) group based in the Mathematical Sciences department. We work on a mixture of knot related research with input from chemistry, maths, physics and anthropology. It's fascinating and diverse research! I am working mainly on coarse-grained modelling of knotted molecules/systems but also on oscillating chemical reactions. Both areas involve a mixture of chemistry and maths, which is a challenge I really enjoy. I also dabble in computer programming, which is one of my favourite things!

In my spare time I enjoy learning languages - well, attempting to anyway (some more successfully than others). I also like kickboxing, fencing and volunteering for the British Red Cross as qualified ambulance crew and a first aid trainer.

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Laura Hutton

Head of Banking Fraud Solutions

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For as long as I can remember, I have loved maths. As a young child, I couldn't wait to get on to my next `problems' book and this passion continued right through my teenage years. My decision to study double maths at A-Level was an easy one, as was accepting my offer to complete my MMath at Durham.

However, as I approached the end of my degree I realised I wasn't sure about what I wanted to do next. The majority of career options being presented to me simply didn't appeal - I was looking for something a little bit different.

I joined a specialist technology company in London that focused on using data analytics to find fraud and financial crime within banks, insurance companies and government organisations. It was here that I discovered a most natural fit for my skillset - the ability to use both my mathematical brain, as well as my love of talking to people. I am now employed as Head of Banking Fraud Solutions for the largest privately owned software company in the world, the SAS Institute. On a daily basis I study how criminals commit crime, how technology can help in detecting and preventing these crimes and how our solutions should be developed to combat the threats of the future. I travel the world (quite literally!) talking to clients about how data analytics and technology can help them, taking a complex mathematical solution and articulating it in a manner that my clients understand.

And I love it! My degree in mathematics gave me the knowledge, confidence and analytical foundation on which to build my career and land my dream job.

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Mikaela Iacobelli

Assistant Professor, now at ETH Zurich

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I was born in a quaint town on the Adriatic coast, Giulianova, and I lived there with my family until the end of high school.

As a child I was very curious and an avid reader, but mathematics was not my favourite subject. Actually, my real passion was figure skating and I have been completely absorbed by the sporting arena until my second year at high school when, after a bad injury, I found myself wondering about what I could do if I could no longer be an athlete.

In the following years I changed my mind many times and I never really thought I would study mathematics until my last year in high school, when an inspiring math teacher lent me some books by Henri Poincaré about non-Euclidean geometry. Discussing with him boosted my interest in the subject and I started feeling more confident about my mathematical abilities. I still remember that one day he told me that if I would have entered in a math department they would have kept me forever...a posteriori it sounds a bit like a prophecy!

Long story made short, I moved to Rome and I started a bachelor in mathematics at the University of Rome "Sapienza". There I got very passionate about algebra, in particular I was attracted by the beauty of the symmetry in group theory and I did my bachelor thesis on Coxeter groups. I went ahead and, towards the end of my master, I decided to apply for a PhD in mathematics on a completely different subject: kinetic theory. In November 2012 I started a joint PhD between Rome "Sapienza" and the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and in a very short time I had to transform myself into a PDEs-woman speaking french! It was a very intense and stressful period and until the end of my PhD I questioned my ability to actually produce good results and to be able to continue a career in academia. Likely, I also studied some problems that fascinated me a lot. In particular I studied (and still do) kinetic equations, that are PDEs arising from physics such as the Vlasov-Poisson equation, which models the behaviour of plasmas and galaxies. What makes plasma so important is that 99% of the material in the universe is made of plasma. Stars, the universe, interstellar medium, the sun, lightning are all made from plasma and I study the equation that describes the evolution in time of the electrons in a plasma.

I finally graduated in December 2015 and I moved to Cambridge for a post-doc. There I had the opportunity to pursue my research project and, from October 2017, I will start my new appointment as assistant professor in mathematics at the University of Durham! As you can see, a career in academia may involve several relocations, and eventually learning new languages. All this can be a bit scary but the best things happen out of one's comfort zone.

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Justine Jefferies

Maths Teacher

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Every day, on returning home from primary school, I would eagerly turn on the TV, not to watch cartoons but to watch the number rounds on Countdown. My love for Maths was evident from a very young age. The subject would continually intrigue and fascinate me, providing everyday problems and increasingly complex Maths to solve them. Moreover, it was the elegance and beauty in Maths that I saw which inspired me to continue studying it as a subject.

Therefore, it was never a question that I was going to study Maths at degree level. Durham University provided the platform that I had always desired and allowed me to finally be immersed in the subject that I loved. Through a wide range of modules I was able to acquire knowledge on a number of different topics of my choice; particularly enjoyably, Mathematical Biology gave me an understanding of how I can use pure Maths techniques on differential equations and apply them to population models in the wild.

It was my module in Mathematics Teaching however, which acted as a catalyst to pursue my current profession. Previously, I had been fortunate enough to experience the teaching profession on numerous occasions; most notably, the internship I undertook with TeachFirst had a considerable impact on me. I have always believed that a basic ability in Maths is vital in everyday life and is something that every child is entitled to but too often denied. Through the support and knowledge gained during my final year module on Mathematics Teaching I was able to successfully obtain a teaching role in a Durham secondary school. Whilst a demanding position to be in, the excellent support from the school combined with the scholarship awarded to train to teach by the IMA have both allowed me to confidently take on the responsibility of a teacher. I hope that the passion I have for both teaching and Maths will translate into inspiring more children to appreciate both the value and beauty of Maths.

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Kylie King

BSc Mathematics (2017)

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I've had many ambitions throughout my life. If you ask anyone who knew me when I was at primary school, they'll say I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. If you ask anyone who knew me at high school, they'll say I wanted to join the RAF as a pilot. So it came as a shock to everyone when, seemingly out of the blue, I applied to university to study maths. The truth is that I soon realised that a feeling of faintness at the sight of blood, and an intense fear of heights meant I wasn't suited to either of those career paths. Since I seemed to effortlessly succeed in maths classes at school, I decided that a degree in maths would be just as easy. How wrong I was.

Maths at Durham was a huge step up from A Levels, I suddenly found myself having to try twice as hard to do half as well as I was used to doing. First year passed by and my efforts led to results I was happy with. Second year passed by and despite my efforts, my grades didn't look very good. `Oh how come effort isn't completely proportional to achievement?' I would say. I began to think that perhaps my decision to study maths was wrong, perhaps it just wasn't for me. But I was two thirds of the way through my degree, no sense in giving up now.

My third and final year was completely different. I took the Maths Teaching module, by far my favourite module, and it confirmed that for the first time in my life I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up - a primary school teacher! I had an amazing time on my school placements, as well as volunteering as a teaching assistant with the SCA at a local Durham school, whilst also enjoying the research and essay writing element of the course and deciding what my opinions were on the big issues in education. At the same time, my efforts in my other modules were paying off, and I was enjoying writing my dissertation.

Cut to the present day: I've just graduated with an upper second class degree (when I thought that would be literally impossible after second year) and I'm working through the pre-course reading prior to starting my Primary PGCE at Warwick in August. So it turns out that my efforts did end up correlating to my achievement in the end, I just had to keep trying, switching up my revision technique helped me a lot, and also finding a module that I absolutely loved helped too.

So if I had to summarise my experience of studying maths at Durham, I would say it's been a bit of a rollercoaster, but ultimately I still enjoy that feeling you get when you've just figured out the answer to a particularly difficult problem, just like I did when I was in school. The only difference is it feels even better, because I had to work that bit harder to get to it. It may be a cliché, but never give up, even when you're really struggling, because if you're sat in a lecture theatre in the Calman Learning Centre at Durham University wondering what on earth Bolzano-Weierstrass has to do with anything then just remember that the fact you're even sat there means you're smart enough to succeed.

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Jolanta Marzec


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I started thinking about mathematics more seriously when I was 15 and I had to decide in which direction my future might go. I knew it would have to do something with maths, but I didn't want a job where each day would look exactly the same and wouldn't present any new challenges. It was then when a thought of an academic career appeared in my mind.

However, I grew up not quite aware of what it means to do mathematics and not knowing what was out there behind the walls of my school. I was lucky to have good maths teachers, but none of them encouraged me to do more. So I learned about math camps, math societies and all those interesting things only one year before I started studying at a university. That was a breakthrough for me. Meeting talented and bright people, and being stimulated by new problems boosted my motivation and showed me a door that led to the Mathematical Wonderland. I was admiring this world through the key hole for a year, and then the doors were opened by professors and members of the Students' Mathematical Society at the University of Silesia. It was completely unlike school. I started to see more and more connections between different objects and discovered an underlying structure. And it is this structure that has always attracted my attention and eventually drew me to number theory.

Unfortunately, my university offered very few courses in number theory. Because of this when I started my PhD (at the University of Bristol) I knew hardly anything about my project (related to Siegel modular forms). I enjoyed its idea as it went across a few areas of mathematics, but at the same time for a long time I felt overwhelmed by the amount of things I should learn and by the level of people surrounding me. Luckily, I had an understanding supervisor and friends who gave me a lot of support.

Now, having been 4 years in the area, I feel more confident about my knowledge. I'm still very aware of many things that I don't know, but it turns out that these are not necessarily easy problems to find an answer for. I may be the person who gives one.

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Catriona McLellan

BSc Natural Sciences (2017)

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My route into Maths was a bit of an unplanned one and I suppose my story is about the power of teaching and it being okay to not know what you're going to end up doing!

I originally planned to study Law at university and indeed at school excelled in subjects such as English, French and Geography. I enjoyed Maths at school, but unlike arts subjects, I was never the best at Maths and this put me off studying it at university. I was worried about being able to cope with the difficulty and demands of a degree in mathematics, and nervous to embark on studies in an area which I knew wasn't necessarily my strongest. As a Vice Chancellor's Scholar for Sport during my undergraduate degree, and having competed internationally in hockey for the last seven years, captaining my country at both U16 and U18 level, I have always been competitive and demanded the most from myself, but also had to work hard to keep both sport and academia at the level I wanted from them.

However, I had an absolutely fantastic maths teacher for four years of my secondary maths education, and he absolutely transformed the way I saw maths. His emphasis on solutions rather than answers, his dedication to ensuring that we all understood exactly why we were doing what we were doing, and his unwavering passion and enthusiasm for maths was not merely infectious, but the reason I did a U-turn on my university plans.

What advice would I give my 17-year-old self thinking about applying for university? I would tell myself that it doesn't matter if you're not the best at your subject, because the university application process is there to tell you if your baseline ability is good enough...the rest is achieved through hard work and determination. Nobody finds their degree easy, but it is about how you apply yourself. I also think that I struggled in first year from not studying enough maths in my final year at school – I would encourage anyone who is thinking about studying a maths degree to listen to their teachers (as I didn't) and immerse themselves in as much maths as possible...if nothing else, because you are going to spend the next three or four years of your life doing it anyway!

This ultimately influenced my decision to change my degree course at the end of first year from Mathematics to Natural Sciences: Joint Honours in Economics and Mathematics. I am really glad that I made that decision and I think finally, by the time I started second year, I had arrived at the right university course for me. It is hard when you are 16/17 to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life, but what I have learned is to just go with what you enjoy, and trust your instincts, because they are more often than not right!

I have studied an eclectic mix of modules throughout my undergraduate degree, enjoying modules such as Complex Analysis and Decision Theory, but, without doubt, the module that I have enjoyed the most throughout my degree is Maths Teaching III. Having had the route I did into mathematics, I always intended on taking the teaching module, and whilst it was very time-demanding, it was a fantastic opportunity to get some hands-on experience in schools as well as give an excellent introduction into some of the issues in modern education. I would 100% recommend doing this module irrespective of your planned career path, but especially if you are even considering a career in education. This module ultimately influenced me to apply to pursue postgraduate studies in Education next year, although I obtained an internship last summer with Deloitte LLP in their tax department, which I think was very much due to the skills developed by my maths degree.

A maths degree is by no means easy, and I have struggled at times with the level of difficulty and juggling its demands with my sporting commitments, but it is extremely rewarding. If you are achieving the kind of results to apply to a university like Durham, then back yourself, immerse yourself in as much maths as possible, as soon as possible, and don't be afraid to ask questions or to change your mind!

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Naoko Miyajima

PhD Student

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I was born in Tokyo to parents with scientific backgrounds, then I spent just under 3 years in the UK while my father was doing his PhD. Although my parents speak primarily Japanese, I had started to pick up English as a toddler and after we returned to Tokyo, my parents decided it would make sense to enrol me in an international school (apparently as a three-year-old I was able to distinguish between squares and rectangles, in English).

I'd always had a strong interest in maths and was fortunate enough to have teachers and family encourage this strongly (come to think of it, the majority of my maths teachers were women). I was regularly given extra assignments and entered in competitions to challenge myself. Choosing to study maths at university was a quick decision!

It didn't even occur to me that there was a severe gender bias in the field, until I read the gender ratio of maths undergraduates at various institutions. I completed a summer project during my undergraduate studies at the University of Warwick, which made me interested in pursuing research in my current field, namely fluid dynamics.

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Natasha Morrison

Research Fellow

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I have always enjoyed puzzles, logical thinking and problem solving. I remember at school that I would always choose to do my maths homework before any other subject and that there was never any question as to whether I would take maths for A level. I liked the fact that in maths there was a right or wrong answer, whereas in English (for example) my grade seemed to depend on arbitrary inconsistent criteria. However, it took me a long time to decide that maths was what I should study at university. I also considered studying natural sciences and classics, but I am very glad now that I chose maths.

I did the MMATH at Durham and really loved both the course and the city. After I finished, I wanted to learn even more maths so I went to do a masters in Cambridge (Part III of the Mathematical Tripos). It was in Cambridge where I really discovered the area of maths I did my PhD in - Combinatorics. I then spent 4 years in Oxford doing my PhD and now I am a Research Fellow in Cambridge. This is a 3 year position for doing research, so I get to think about exciting maths problems everyday!

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Noryanti Muhammad

PhD in Statistics (2016)

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I'm a third year PhD student in Probability and Statistics, currently doing a research about Nonparametric Predictive Inference for bivariate data with Copulas.

I was born, grew up and got my first education in Malaysia, specifically in Johor Bahru, a city in Southern Malaysia. I am married and have two active and lovely kids. After my secondary school in the year 1999, I joined the public Universiti Teknologi MARA at Shah Alam located in the West of Peninsular Malaysia, where I studied for my Diploma and Bachelor in Statistics. Then, I furthered my study and obtained a Master of Mathematics degree from the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor Bahru and got a job offer from the University Malaysia Pahang (UMP) in 2007. After 5 years of service with UMP, I got an opportunity to further my Phd study abroad.

Actually, I don't have any specific reason in choosing mathematics other than I like to learn mathematics. However, I believe that in our life, we deal with mathematics and statistics and it's an interesting field to be explored and learned. I'm really enjoying doing maths and stats comparing to other subjects.

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Rachel Oughton

Associate Professor, Statistics

Dr Rachel Oughton standing by a river

I grew up in Sheffield, UK, and have been in Durham since 2004, when I arrived as an undergrad. Since then I’ve done a PhD and three postdoctoral research posts, and am now an Associate Professor in Statistics. I work part time, and have done since my first daughter was born in 2015, and I feel very privileged to be able to do a job that I love while still avoiding being completely swamped (mostly!).

When I was younger I loved learning about everything. I read a lot in my spare time, and loved learning how to make things with my hands, through sewing and baking (I still do in fact). My parents used to call me "Why Bird" (after an irritating bird from a children's programme I liked) because I was always asking questions. My dad would explain things like atomic bombs and steam engines to me, and my mum would show me how to make pastry or butterfly buns, or how to finish a seam. All very stereotypical I guess, but I enjoyed all of it, and I never felt pushed in any particular direction.

I did well at maths all through school, but I didn't start to really enjoy it until late into my A-levels, when it started getting more involved and more interesting. Up until that point it had mostly involved learning rules and applying them to repetitive questions, but gradually we were learning to think and solve problems. I found that really satisfying, so I chose to study maths at university. I reasoned that I could legitimately spend my free time pursuing the other things that interested me, but I wasn't sure I could make a hobby out of maths!

In the holidays I used to work in a clothes shop in Sheffield, to make some money for term time. It was a lot of fun, but I had no idea what it might be like to earn money doing maths, so in my third year, on a whim (in the middle of the night) I applied for an internship at the Met Office. I got it, and worked there for three months, building statistical models of how various respiratory diseases respond to the weather. When I look back at how I did things, I feel quite embarrassed, as I could probably do a much better job in a week now than I did that whole three months! But I really enjoyed my time there, and it made me want to see if I could make my living by using statistics to model and solve real life problems.

Since then that's what I've been doing. In my PhD it was about modelling ocean ecosystem simulators and finding ways to compare different ones. Subsequent postdoctoral research posts focussed on petroleum geology, healthcare provision and flood modelling. The research projects I’m involved in now use statistics to evaluate interventions about early language acquisition and about measures to prevent domestic violence. I’m also involved in outreach and engagement – it saddens me that there is so much negativity and ambivalence towards maths, especially statistics, and so, along with the rest of the outreach and engagement committee I enjoy taking part in activities to try to break down these barriers and encourage people to engage with maths.

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Christiana Pantelidou


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I was born in Cyprus in the late 1980s. From early on, I showed great interest in science, so it didn't come as a surprise to my parents when I decided to study Physics at College. I received my undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Athens, Greece, in 2009 and immediately after I moved to the United Kingdom to continue my studies at the postgraduate level at Imperial College. In 2010 I was awarded a master's degree in `Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces', accompanied by the Abdus Salam award for excellence. Intrigued by the mysteries of the Universe at the most fundamental level, I decided to stay on at Imperial College to pursue a PhD in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics under the supervision of Prof. Jerome Gauntlett (funded by the Cypriot State Foundation). Four years later I defended my thesis, focused on `Applications of the Gauge/Gravity correspondence', and I embarked on a career in Academia. Since then, I have been working as a postdoctoral researcher first at the University of Barcelona, Spain (funded by David Mateos's ERC grant on `Holography for the LHC era') and now at the University of Durham, UK (funded by the STFC grant of the HEP group). It has been a very intense, but also very rewarding and fulfilling journey, which allowed me not only to expand the horizons of human knowledge but also to push my own boundaries as a person.

My scientific efforts so far have been focused on the Gauge/Gravity correspondence, also known as holography. This was introduced by Juan Maldacena in 1997 and establishes the striking equivalence between two seemingly very different theories: a theory of quantum gravity (or string theory) and a quantum mechanical model of particles. To-date, holography remains one of the deepest insights that have arisen from string theory in the last 20 years and as such is a very active and very diverse area of research. A particular research direction that people, including myself, are currently pursuing is to use this correspondence as a study tool for investigating the dynamics of materials that, due to the very strong interactions between their constituent particles, are not amenable to analysis using conventional techniques or computer simulations. Acquiring an understanding of these materials is desirable as some of them, like for example high-temperature superconductors and graphene, have prominent future technological applications.

Other than questions related to what I described above, and more generally about string theory, black hole physics, and the universe more generically, I am also very passionate about spreading my love for maths and physics to the general public. I participate in various outreach activities and maintain a science blog `Letters from the Universe', with frequent updates on various topics in theoretical physics.

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Irene Pasquinelli

PhD Student

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My mum can tell quite a few amusing stories about me as a child and mathematics.

I have two favourite ones.

The first one is when I was 2 and I was learning to count. I still had to ask every 10 numbers: `Mum, what's after twenty nine?' `thirty' she would answer. And me again `thirty one, thirty two, ... , thirty nine. Mum, what's after thirty nine?' and so on. Sometimes she was getting tired, and after `Mum, what's after sixty nine?' she would answer `I will not tell you'. Enough counting for today'. Upset, I would not give up: `I don't need your help, I understood how it works. Sixty ten, sixty eleven, sixty twelve,...'.

The second one happened when my 3 year older sister was in primary school and I heard her studying what a set was. Then I went to my room and when my mother came to look for me she found me surrounded by all the clothes I could find in the closet, divided by colour. When she desperately asked what did I do, she could not take herself to reproach me when I answered `I was making sets'.

My math teachers, from primary school to high school, were all inspiring. The more I learnt that in life there is not only black and white or right and wrong, but thousands of shadows and points of view, the more I saw that pure math could give me the precision and logic I needed in my life and I could not find elsewhere.

It was such a natural choice to start math at uni. I never regretted it. They pay me for having fun. Could I ask for more?

My bachelor was in Rome, where I got immediately passionate about geometry. During my last year there, I decided that I wanted to meet new cultures and places. Languages as a second passion, I could combine my interest for math, my instinct to travel and my languages skills by moving around, first to Paris, then to Bristol, again to Paris, last year to Durham and in a few months to Japan.

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Fiona Reid

Maths Teacher

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Even at a young age, Maths has been something I have greatly enjoyed and chosen to make a part of my life: given a piece of paper and a pencil in nursery, I filled it with sums rather than a doodle, and it was this that formed my first ever reference (for my primary school)!

I loved reading too, so was always delighted to find a book about numbers. The three I remember most from my time in secondary school, sixth form and university are "The Number Devil", "Prime Obsession" and "Flatland" respectively – each bringing new pieces of information (from factorials to historical facts) in a very approachable way. Some people find it easy to fall into the trap of believing that Maths and literature are incompatible, but this is very much not true! Maths has links to many other subjects – I studied History and Latin in sixth form and loved the logic and investigative nature of both, even dabbling with the idea of studying Classics at university.

I went on to follow the path my 4-year-old self had laid, and thoroughly enjoyed 4 years studying Maths at Durham University. My main focus was on the pure aspects of Maths: number theory and algebra, with my final-year project looking at the links that continued fractions make between hyperbolic geometry, matrices and Diophantine approximations.

On the other hand, in my current role as a teacher it is often the applied side of Maths which motivates learning. One of my pupils asked me in three consecutive lessons where we'd need this in the real world; it's easy as a teacher to see the value of logic, methodical thinking and problem-solving skills, but rather harder to communicate this to a 12-year-old pupil. Nevertheless, I believe that Maths is vital for more than just numeracy: it teaches analytical thinking, pattern-spotting, and creativity in drawing many (apparently separate) things together. I would love to also be able to leave pupils thinking, like me, that Maths is beautiful and can even be fun!

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Meg Rutherford

BSc Mathematics (2015)

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I grew up in a small village in the Lake District. My Mother is a Maths teacher and so I was always encouraged to ask questions and challenge myself mathematically. However, whilst I always enjoyed the subject it didn't become a focus of mine until I came to choose my degree. Having no clue as to what I wanted to go on to become, I wanted a degree which would afford me as many opportunities as possible and hence I chose Maths.

A common misconception before going to university is probably that Mathematicians have no time to enjoy the social benefits. However, I believe studying Maths simply teaches prioritisation and time management. I play Netball for university and I have taken part in College fashion shows as well as being a Freshers' Rep and doing a 'learn to row' course. Obviously Maths at university is hard work but that is why employers look so highly upon it as a degree; a fact which helped me gain an internship with Deloitte.

Whilst I would be lying if I said I enjoyed all parts of my degree, it is hugely rewarding and there are many aspects which I find very interesting. In particular, in first and second year I enjoyed studying limits and convergence of sequences and series of real and complex numbers. This year I am enjoying the Maths Teaching module as I am gaining a much greater insight into the education system in which I have spent most of my life.

Currently, I am in my final year of studying for a BSc in Mathematics and I am looking forward to starting a graduate job with Deloitte in Sept 2015.

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Smita Sahu


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I was born and grew up in a Northern Indian city named Kanpur. I spent quite a lot of time with my grandfather. I always used to ask him too many whys and hows to which he would always answer. He was an accountant. In those times people did not use any calculator to do the numbers. I used to sit with him and then he used to give me some numbers to add and subtract that was my favourite game in that time. I was an average student until my high school. Then I started my bachelor degree in Kanpur. It was a general science degree with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics for two years. In the third year, students were supposed to pick only two of these subjects. I chose Chemistry and Mathematics. It was easy as I like both subjects.

However, I was confused about which one to choose for my Masters. To be honest, Mathematics was not my first choice. In India, almost every Indian has a dream to study at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) - one of the most prestigious bodies of institutions in the country. I sat the M.Sc. Maths entrance test and I got selected among many of them. That was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life. Then I moved from Kanpur to pursue the Masters at IIT Delhi. During my Masters, I was so fascinated about algebra. But in my class, everyone used to come to me and ask for help to solve ODE and PDE problems. Nonetheless, I chose algebra as my Master's project and my Master's thesis was about the representation of finite groups.

Post Masters, I was not sure about going for further studies. I worked for a year in an Engineering Institute but soon I realized I wanted to pursue a PhD. I applied for an ITN Marie-Curie SADCO PhD fellowship, won it and started my PhD journey at the La Sapienza University of Rome. It was a big challenge for me to not only pursue higher studies in Mathematics but also move to a different continent altogether with different culture, language, food and environment. I never learned any other language except my mother tongue (which is Hindi) and English. In the beginning, I had to struggle a lot with learning to speak the Italian language but I call myself a fighter. A bitter incident happened and then I decided to learn Italian and in just two months I was talking to everyone in Italian! My PhD was a joint European Project known as Initial Training Network Sensitivity Analysis for Deterministic Controller Design (ITN SADCO). During my PhD, I spent 2.5 years in Rome and as per the project rule, I had to spend 6 months on secondment at Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 6, France. My PhD thesis was dedicated to developing numerical schemes for the Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman equation. After my thesis submission in 2014, I won a 6 month Researcher position at La Sapienza University of Rome and I worked on traffic flow models on road networks. I successfully defended my PhD thesis in July 2015.

Since 2015, I have been on my postdoctoral journey at Durham University. Currently, I am involved with teaching as well as research. I am working on numerical schemes for Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman and Gilson Pickering. I am also interested in inverse problems and ultrasonic non-destructive testing.

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Rachel Sheard

BSc Mathematics (2016)

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At my all-girls school, further maths lessons only ran if there was enough demand from students. However, at our partner all-boys school, they would regularly have two or three sets for further maths, and I didn't really understand why this was the case. My first realisation of the difference between female and male attitudes to maths occurred when attending STEP classes at the boys' school. The boys were happy to be known for their strong ability in maths but I couldn't think of anything worse. I was always striving to remain a well-rounded student and not to be labelled as a `maths geek.'

However, my attitude adjusted when I arrived at Durham University. I realised that students respected other students' abilities and, in particular, that maths is a very respected degree which requires both skill and dedication, whether male or female. I also learnt that enjoying your degree is not seen as a `geeky' attitude, it's great to see students enjoying what they are studying. It's fantastic that there are strong female role models in the maths department and I have always felt thoroughly supported and inspired by them.

Studying for a maths degree can be very challenging at times. However, I have never thought that there would be any other subject I'd rather be studying. The feeling of satisfaction when you finally understand a topic, having struggled for hours, is incredible.

I have gone down a more pure route with my degree, choosing Elementary Number Theory, Galois Theory and a pure 3H project topic - Non-Archimedean Analysis. However, the module which has stood out most for me is Mathematical Teaching, a 3rd year module in which students are able to complete observations in local schools. This module confirmed that I most definitely want to become a secondary school teacher. I will be studying for my Maths PGCE at King's College London next year, and couldn't be more excited to start my career in teaching.

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Andrea Simkus

PhD Student

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When I was 5 years old, my dad took me on a business trip to Belgium and placed me in a Belgian pre-school. At that time I could only speak one language and that was Czech. I spent the whole time in the pre-school playing with puzzles and logic games. As my high school teacher - many years later - observed, Maths is a language and it is very universal. I liked that language. It was before I even learned English when I started enjoying Maths.

I have been very fortunate to have amazing Maths teachers throughout my whole education. I have been encouraged to take part in Maths Challenges and Olympics, to do extra homeworks. I think that thanks to my teachers and thanks to my genuine interest in problem solving, I decided to study Maths and Philosophy for my undergraduate degree. Throughout my undergraduate studies I became very interested in logic and in applied Maths. For me, it is great when I can see a real-life application of what I am doing.

When my favorite lecturer advertised a PhD in applied statistics, I did not hesitate and applied. I am now working on a very exciting project on Reproducibility of Statistical Tests in the Pharmaceutical industry. It is not easy, some days I struggle, but other days, when I manage to make a progress, I feel very happy.

I found Durham to be a very nice and friendly environment for female PhD students. I will soon become a mother and take 3-month maternity leave to settle down with my daughter and then I will continue to work on my research. My supervisors are great support to me in this challenge and I do not feel that being a female is a problem here. Durham is a family-friendly place in general, allowing my husband, also an academic, to take paternity leave from his research, thus allowing me to make a significant breakthrough in the coming months. I could not be more fortunate in terms of my choice for a Ph. D.

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Rebecca Smith

BSc Mathematics (2015)

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I attended a state school and sixth form in Kidlington, just north of Oxford, and although I enjoyed music and languages, I always preferred the rigorous nature of maths.

Despite being the only girl in my maths, further maths and physics A-level classes, I decided to pursue my love for maths and I am now in my final year of a 3-year maths degree here in Durham. Although challenging at times, I have thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of university and I would strongly recommend university to anyone looking to take their maths to the next level. We have a vast choice of modules, including topics such as statistics, probability, quantum mechanics, mathematical biology and number theory. I particularly enjoyed investigating the basic axioms of numbers through the Elementary Number Theory module.

I was interviewed for and was accepted on the Mathematics Teaching module (a third year maths module). During the course of the year we will discuss topics such as the changing Mathematics curriculum and planning a successful maths lesson, as well as designing an exam paper and gaining teaching experience through a school-based project. Teaching is something I have always enjoyed, and I am now looking forward to doing teacher training with the aim of teaching maths at secondary school level. I love maths and would like other people to love maths too!

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Anna Szumovicz

PhD student

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I do not have much to tell about my story with maths. In high school I just felt this was the only path of career which I wanted to choose and it has not changed until now. In fact I cannot explain this. I would say it is like falling in love. Some chemistry in your brain. The feeling when you solve a problem which you really want to be done. I cannot compare it to anything else. It is why it is worth to do it.

I studied at Jagiellonian University in Krakow and at Université Paris 13 and got two masters in 2014. Currently I am doing a joint PhD at Durham University and at UPMC (Paris). I am very happy that I can do in my life what I love.

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Anne Taormina

Director of Research, Professor, Mathematical & Theoretical Particle Physics
Head of Department of Mathematical Sciences (2014-2018)

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I was born and grew up in Mons, Belgium, in a family of school teachers. I am the eldest of three sisters, one of whom trained as a translator and the other as a medical doctor. My father, who taught foreign languages all his active life, had developed a keen interest for mathematics and excelled at it at high school. He used to entertain us with maths puzzles at dinner time, and certainly was an early influence on my own mathematical journey. By the age of thirteen, I had decided to study Mathematics and become a teacher myself. By the age of twenty-one, then in my penultimate year of a Licence en Mathematiques at Mons University, I had discovered the beauty and power of symmetry through group theory and its application to theoretical particle physics. This is when the idea of furthering my studies and apply for a PhD emerged.

I was awarded a 4-year Fellowship (Aspirant) from the Belgian Fonds National de Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) to embark on a PhD in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics at Mons University under Jean Nuyts in October 1980, defended my thesis in February 1984 and continued my research as FNRS Chercheur Qualifie for another two years, being based in Mons but visiting the Theory Division of CERN in Geneva to develop new collaborations there. I accepted a one-year postdoc position at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris in October 1986, and then moved to CERN in October 1987 as a postdoc. There I met my future husband, a theoretical particle physicist who was also a postdoc at CERN, and this event signalled the beginning of a two-body problem that required some careful planning to resolve. After two further years of postdoctoral research as Enrico Fermi Fellow at Chicago University, during which time my first child was born, we moved to Durham where my husband had been offered a Lectureship in Physics. I was awarded an SERC five-year fellowship in October 1991 and had my second child in 1993, was a temporary lecturer for one year, then a Leverhulme postdoc for another three years and became a Lecturer in the Department of Mathematical Sciences in October 2000. I was promoted to Reader in 2004 and to a Chair in 2006.

My scientific career has been guided by my interest in symmetries, mainly in the context of the collective pursuit of particle physicists to unify the four fundamental forces of Nature in a universal framework. This dream is fuelled by partial success provided by the Standard Model of Particle Physics and the recent discovery of the Brout-Englert-Higgs boson at CERN, but it is far from being fully realised. This is in spite of efforts by thousands of theoretical particle physicists, who have developed String Theory in the last 50 years in an attempt to unify gravity to the other three fundamental forces. What fascinates me in String Theory is that it offers an almost unlimited playground to develop ideas that can be explored with complementary tools such as group and representation theory, algebraic geometry and number theory. It provides a very fertile ground that continues to produce the unexpected.

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Chloe Tyler

Head of Audit

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In truth I only studied maths because I was good at it and at a loss of what else to do! My father was an accountant and my mother a teacher, so maths was a sensible choice as it would enable both of those but also opened up so many other avenues to me.

After graduating I decided to explore the world and spent a year and a half flitting from Asia to Australia and doing Camp America. Without a penny to my name I fell into Internal Auditing at Oxfordshire County Council because it was the first maths related job I saw and I wanted to quickly earn as much money as possible so I could continue to travel! It turns out I really liked it and here I am 12 years later still in the profession! After 6 years including a few tough years balancing work with gaining formal qualifications my passion for travelling crept back up on me and I was lucky enough to get an International Internal Auditor post with Oxfam. Every other month I travelled to a new country including some you could not hope to reach through normal methods including Afghanistan, Bolivia, Gaza and most of Africa.

Now I work as Head of Audit for a smaller Charity called Malaria Consortium working in Asia and Africa. The role of an Internal Auditor is often mixed up with an External Auditor but they are completely different! External Auditors are a legal function checking your published finances are accurate, whereas Internal Audit works with the business to help them review all their systems to see if there are any improvements to make. Every day is different and I get to meet new people all the time. In my career I have reviewed everything from the call system in a fire station, to school administration processes, to the project management of the distribution of life-saving drugs to children.

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Andrea Vera


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I grew up in northern Chile, in a town called Antofagasta located in the Atacama desert. As a child I really liked Maths, and I was fortunate to be very encouraged by my teacher and parents. On several occasions I participated in the Maths Olympiads. I was also interested (and still am) in other areas of knowledge; I guess that was the reason I first started studying psychology. However, for different reasons I left that career after a few months, and the following year I decided to study mathematics.

At university I was able to see that mathematics was much more interesting and fascinating than the way it was taught at school. It was in fact a new language, which gave meaning to many ideas I had not been able to identify until then. When I discovered that my favorite question (`Why?') was the main focus of all courses, I finally convinced myself that I had made the right decision.

When I finished my degree, I had a hard time deciding whether to continue with a PhD. I felt very unconfident and believed I did not meet the requirements to be part of that community. Despite this, I started my PhD at the University of Chile and did my thesis on Group Representation Theory, which is the research area I currently work in. I have lovely memories of that time. It was a very stimulating period in which besides learning a lot of Maths, I learned the value of teamwork and the commitment to knowledge transfer. For the first time, I was facing the challenge of "creating". I remember that feeling well: first came a somewhat uncomfortable uncertainty, but eventually I could not stop thinking about the problem in the process of being solved.

At present I am doing a Postdoc at Durham University, UK. Once again I am facing the challenge of creation, but this time I am equipped with a little more experience and confidence, and can therefore enjoy it more.

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Clare Wallace

Assistant Professor (Teaching)

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I was a PhD student in Probability, looking at a random walk model to approximate the low-temperature expansion of the Ising model.

I'm originally from Durham, but I moved away in 2010 to study for my BSc in Maths at York. Four years later, having spent a year at Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse through the Erasmus program, I came back to Durham to work for a year, planning to save up and apply for a Masters program elsewhere in the UK. Somewhere along the way, this plan became 'go to Paris', and when September came I found myself queuing for a student card at Université Paris Dauphine. After a year, I transferred to Université Pierre et Marie Curie, where I would eventually obtain my Masters in Probabilités et Modèles Aléatoires. I'm now back in my hometown, working towards becoming the first Doctor in my family.

I'm told that I have been interested in numbers since I was a toddler, and this has become a passion that I'm not in a hurry to grow out of!

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Marion Weinzierl


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I was born in Northern Germany and grew up on my parents' farm as the eldest of five children. I always wanted to know how and why things work as they do. From the age of about eleven I got very interested in physics and especially astrophysics. For many years I wanted to become an astrophysicist, though I kept on being interested also in other disciplines (as languages, sports, music, acting, photography, creative writing, etc.). When it came to choosing a subject to study, I decided to study media informatics at Ulm University in Southern Germany. However, during my studies I was drawn back to my passion for the question what makes things move and why, so my studies ended up at the very mathematical end of computer science. My final year project was on a Monte Carlo physics simulation. That was how I came to the field of scientific computing, which lies in the overlap of computer science, mathematics and an application field from science or engineering - in my case physics. I love the interdisciplinarity of this field, and also the fact that it helps you to answer questions like "Where does this effect that we can observe come from?", "What would happen if we changed the setup like this?", "What will happen when things go on that way?". You can try things in numerical simulations that are impossible, too dangerous or too expensive to try in real life.

I obtained a Ph.D. in scientific computing at Technische Universtitaet Muenchen (TUM), where I worked on multigrid methods for parallel computers. There I met my later husband, who is computer scientist, too. My first daughter was born when I was halfway through my Ph.D. studies. My husband and me always shared the responsibility for childcare and he also took seven months parental leave. My second daughter was born two months after I defended my Ph.D. thesis. My husband got a lecturer position at Durham University, and after my maternity leave I pursued my research as a Postdoc at the Department for Mathematical Sciences at the same university. Here, I am working on numerical simulations in solar magnetohydrodynamics - so I finally returned to astrophysics, though with a mathematical and computer science emphasis.

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Marija Zamaklar

Associate Professor

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I was born in Belgrade, in old Yugoslavia, in a family of doctors as the youngest daughter. I was always interested in things that have to do with nature, as well as mathematics. When I was in secondary school, I read the book by Steven Hawking, and got very interested in questions regarding the nature of space and time and the ``beginning of the Universe''. I even wrote a letter to Prof Steven Hawking and to my great delight I received a reply.

I studied physics at the University of Belgrade. After graduating, I received a scholarship to study for Part III and a PhD Cambridge. It was quite an experience to get to Cambridge, the city of Newton, Maxwell and Hawking. I have enjoyed a lot the time studying for the PhD degree in string theory (which is one of the modern approaches to understand the nature of space and time). After my PhD I went to Italy (ICTP Trieste) to do my first post doc, and after that to Germany (Albert Einstein Institute MPI) to do my second postdoc. After that I got a permanent position here in Durham, where I now live with my family. At the moment I am a reader in Mathematics in the University of Durham.

I am working on string theory and the theory of solitons. I also have strong interests in more applied branches of mathematics which have to do with biological systems and computer vision.

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In February 2018, women mathematicians from all over the world responded to a call for clips in which they were asked to introduce themselves. The result includes 146 clips of 243 women mathematicians from 36 different countries and speaking 31 different languages. Supported by the Committee for Women in Mathematics of the International Mathematical Union.
For more information, visit Faces of Women in Mathematics on Facebook.