Career Path Interview (Spring 2018, Part II)

Interviewee: A.Z.

Major: Applied Mathematics and Statistics

Year: Junior

 

1) What made you originally get into mathematics, and what areas did you hone in on?

A.Z: When I was a freshman, I knew nothing about what I was going to do. Math was just one of the subjects that I was familiar with. After finishing all the lower- division courses, I chose to take Math 104 as my first upper-division class and there was indeed a huge gap between it and those lower-division courses. The struggle was real but it also brought a lot of fun. I think I will just keep exploring different fields in Mathematics as an undergrad instead of focusing on a certain area.

 

2) Are you planning on graduate school once you finish at Cal?

A.Z: Yes, I plan to go to graduate school in statistics because I would like to learn more statistical skills or computer science skills and maybe go into industry later.

 

3) Have you had any math related research experience? Can you elaborate on your experience?

A.Z: Yes, I am currently doing synergy research with professor Rainer Sachs. We are analyzing cancers produced when astronauts encounter galactic cosmic rays (GCR). GCR occur almost exclusively outside of what NASA terms low earth orbit. This high energy radiation realistically cannot be shielded against. We are using in silico modeling to estimate how dangerous GCR are and modern mathematical synergy analysis to plan and interpret experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory on the tumorigenic risk to mice of a mixed radiation field, and on the effect of such fields on cancer surrogate endpoints such as chromosome aberrations, using results of experiments on each individual radiation in the mixture.

Career Path Interview (Spring 2018, Part I)

Interviewee: H.L.
Major: Mathematics
Year: Senior

1) Why did you choose maths as your major?
H.L.: I have always been interested in numbers, patterns and how things operate. However, upon entering college, I was introduced to political science, economics, philosophy, anthropology and other subjects, which caught so much of my attention that I considered majoring in one of those fields. Nevertheless, the attention was only momentary. Mathematics remained my favorite, and was hence chosen as my major. As I advanced, mathematics grew on me, and became my ultimate intellectual pursuit.

2) What are the areas of math that you have studied?
H.L.: Like most undergraduate math students, I took courses in calculus, linear algebra, real/complex analysis, abstract algebra, topology, ordinary/partial differential equations, discrete structures, set theory, etc. In terms of more advanced materials, I studied elements of measure theory, distribution theory and probability, functional analysis, Fourier analysis, approximation theory, analysis on PDE, matrix theory, computational group theory, ring, module, field, Galois theory, elements of representation theory, categorical language, algebraic topology, homological algebra, etc. I am also introduced to other branches of mathematics including mathematical logic and differential geometry.

3) Do you have any comment on these areas?
H.L.: Given my current maturity, I may not be qualified to give any deep comment about these subjects. However, the impression I have is that many topics in analysis and abstract algebra often resort to the study of linear algebra. Just to name a few, the concept of duality is one of the principal elements in the study of module theory, which is itself a generalized study of vector space over a field. In functional analysis, which is roughly speaking the study of infinite-dimensional vector spaces equipped with topological or metric structure, whose fundamental elements also include the Riesz representation theorems and dual of Hilbert and Banach spaces. In PDE, the solvability of second-order elliptic equations is firstly established by the existence of weak solutions, which turned out to be a consequence of what is known as the Fredholm alternative given the condition of a compact linear operator involved in the partial equation. There are also other topics in algebraic analysis where application of matrix theory is ubiquitous.

4) Which area is your favourite?
H.L.: Thus far, I am mostly interested in measure theory, functional analysis, and PDE.

5) What’s you plan after college?
H.L.: I recently applied to several Ph.D. programs. I wish to pursue graduate study primarily in the area of mathematical analysis.

6) Have you ever considered working as opposed to grad school?
H.L.: I have wanted to pursue an academic career since I was in high school. However, if things do not turn out well, I am open to opportunities in math-related industries.

7) Did your math research experience affect your perspective? If so, in what way?
H.L.: My participation in summer 2017 REU at Cornell University, and in directed reading courses at Berkeley definitely helped form my perspective on mathematical research. Prior to these experiences, I did not know what a life of a researcher would entail. It was not just about learning and being exposed to a vast amount of materials relevant to the research project, but also about honing my communication skills. By frequently discussing problems and concepts that I struggled to understand with other group members, I learned how to organize and present mathematical ideas in such a way that not only my partners, but also participants working on other projects, can understand. As a result, I received intuitive feedback, which helped me form fresh insights into difficult problems. Additionally, I find it very helpful and motivating to attend graduate seminars organized by faculty members as well as graduate students at Berkeley, even though my comprehension of the presented materials may not be adequate and may even be, a lot of times, absent. However, these seminars provide intuitions in terms of how materials I learned in graduate courses are used and developed. Thereby, they portrait a clearer picture of what the disciplines look like at the forefront and how important it is to communicate with other mathematicians about new ideas on unsolved problems.

8) Do you mind sharing with us your long-term career goal?
H.L.: Upon obtaining a Ph.D degree, I hope to get a postdoctoral and then a faculty position at some research university to fulfil my dream of teaching and conducting original research in mathematics.

Studying Abroad as a Math Major

A lot of our advice here with peer advising is about how to make the best use of your time as a math major here in Berkeley, but for this blog post I thought we’d look a little past the top floors of Evans. In particular, I wanted to talk a bit about studying abroad as a math major. I’ll try to answer questions that I myself had and that I’ve encountered before. This isn’t going to be so much of a travel blog or a really detailed rundown of my time abroad but more of a general overview of what’s available for math majors at Berkeley.

 

What are my options?

I would say there are two well-traveled paths for studying abroad as a math major. The first and most intuitive is through the UC system’s study abroad programs, UCEAP (http://uc.eap.ucop.edu). This is what I ended up doing, and there are a lot of advantages to going through a system aligned with the school. The other well-known alternative is one of the two math-focused programs: Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (https://www.budapestsemesters.com) and Math in Moscow* (http://www.mccme.ru/mathinmoscow). I’m pretty sure it’s possible to go outside of these two routes, but it might make for some administrative pains and less of a support system in general. That being said, if there’s some other special program I haven’t heard of, definitely talk to staff/faculty/peer advisors about it!

 

I’m really into math…do I have to go to Budapest or Moscow?

One thing that I want to make clear: there are rigorous math classes offered through UCEAP. Just being interested in math does not mean that either BSM or MiM would be ideal for you. I personally wanted to take high level math courses and assumed by default I would end up in Moscow or Budapest, so I checked out the courses offered at each program in the past. I would encourage any interested student to do this, because it made me realize the courses at these programs didn’t really appeal to me.

With a little extra research, I was able to find programs through UCEAP that offered advanced math courses in the subjects I was interested in. You won’t be quite as immersed in math as you would at another program, but I still found the coursework engaging and challenging.

 

What was your experience like?

I ended up in Lund, Sweden, again partially because it offered courses that seemed comparable to Berkeley classes with unique topics not always available here. I also decided to go there because I had never been to Scandinavia, it seemed like an interesting place in general, and it was a convenient enough location from which I could easily visit family and travel in general. These non-academic concerns are important to keep in mind. This may seem obvious, but when you’re scrolling through the options and looking for a place with advanced math courses, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of this.

I agonized over what classes to take but I ended up with three courses. The first was on calculus of variations, a topic which is sometimes covered in Berkeley’s Math 170, but not always. It was a fun class with two large problem sets and a final presentation. I also enrolled in a Biomathematics course. It was mostly focused on applications of dynamical systems in biology, giving it a slightly different focus than Berkeley’s Math 127. There was some coding and a pretty difficult take home final, as well as an oral exam that I was pretty worried for. A week before the exam I got an email saying I did well enough to not have to take the oral exam, which was a little jarring but definitely welcome.

As you might be able to tell, the classes were way less strict on deadlines and grading than at Berkeley. I had heard this before and had thought it would reduce stress, but I ended up worrying more about my grades than usual since I didn’t really know how I was doing throughout the whole semester. This comes down to personal preference though, and I think it’s a good experience to get exposed to other ways of doing things.

Probably the bulk of my time was spent on an independent bachelor project where I worked one-on-one with a faculty member on a problem in his research, which was a great experience. I saw the option listed on the website and emailed some faculty to see if there was anything available. While it was surprisingly easy to arrange, I did run into a few administrative hiccups here and there, but the staff in general was very helpful and it worked out in the end.

 

Any general advice?

The main piece of advice I would give to people considering study abroad is to be careful but not fearful. There are a lot of forms and processes to go through to get the experience planned out and approved, and the less issues you have the better. Be especially particular if you’re trying to get major requirements satisfied abroad. That being said, don’t be afraid to go after what you’re interested in, even if there’s not really a precedent for it. Basically, go for it!

 

*For a good rundown of a Cal student’s experience in MiM, check out https://guide.math.berkeley.edu/2016/04/04/from-russia-with-love/

GRE Math Subject Test Preparation Strategies

Overview:

  • Official guide & official test practice book
  • Format:
    The test consists of one section which is 2 hours and 50 minutes long.
  • When is the test offered?
    In April, October and November each year.
    Note: The test registration deadline for the November one is usually before the time when the result of the October test comes out. So, it may be a good idea to register for both if one is in urgent need of a good score.
  • Nearest Location:
    Berkeley High.
  • Graduate programs that require GRE Math Subject Test score:
    Math & Applied Math.
  • Graduate programs for which a good Math Subject score would be helpful:
    Financial Mathematics, Physics, Statistics, etc..

Test preparation strategies:

  • START EARLY so that you will have enough time to review all the materials, and will be able to take the subject test again (which many people do) if necessary.
  • Start with a diagnostic exam: identify the topics that you are unfamiliar with, and master them.
  • Review ALL the concepts mentioned in the official guide, and relevant problem-solving techniques.
  • Practice a lot, practice often.
  • Mock exams: do the full length past exams under TIMED conditions, at a place where you are unlikely to be disturbed. (Speed matters!)
  • When practicing, mark the questions that you can’t solve even if you manage to guess the correct answer.

Test prep books:

  • Princeton Review: fairly exhaustive, but contains typos and errors.
  • Research & Education Association (REA): covers more topics than the actual test does, contains 6 practice exams, and is great for those who have a good score already but want an even better one.

Where to find past exams:

  • Google keywords like “old gre practice”, and the following forms shall be available online: Form 0568, 1268, 8767, 9367, and 9768.
    Note: If a URL is no longer valid, use the Wayback Machine to retrieve it.
  • Some are available at: http://www.wmich.edu/mathclub/gre.html (This webpage has some other information on test preparation as well.)
  • ETS has one past exam available on its website.

What if I don’t know about a certain topic yet?

  • Take a relevant course.
  • Learn the basics by reading a textbook and doing the exercises. (Here is a book-list for reference; you may search the topic in the second column.)

Other resources:

We [Lilian and Rose] are more than willing to share our Subject Test experience, and help you with your test preparation, so please come by our advising hours! Besides, I [Rose] have written up some test preparation notes for my own sake, and will gladly share them on an individual basis.

Experiences and Advice about Double/Triple Majoring

 

Hey everyone! It’s Fahad again with the peer advising blog! This week, I wanted to talk about my experiences being a Math, Computer Science, and Statistics triple major, and my recommendations for anyone who’s considering doing more than one major! If you’re wondering about my experiences, head to the next paragraph. If you’re wondering about my advice, check out the third paragraph!

I’ll start with my experiences and some of the myths I learned really weren’t true. The first thing I want to talk about, and probably the most important, is the course load and time commitments.  I will warn you, more than one major definitely takes up a significant amount of time; just fitting in the classes itself is a pain. But as a triple major, I was able to plan out a 4 year schedule in which I got to take a couple of classes for fun and stay at 4 courses per semester, and it only required me to take all technical classes two semesters and a couple of summer classes! This might seem like a lot for some people; which is why the option of taking a 5th or 6th semester exists, but at no point should you have to take 20+ grueling units for multiple semester (unless you want to!). It’s about planning correctly. Overall I’ve had a positive experience doing a triple major, and it’s because, as I’ll touch on in the next semester, I was truly interested in everything I’m studying.

So, on for some practical advice. The biggest, most important piece of advice I can give is to actually be interested in what you’re majoring in. You’re not cooler because you’re a double or triple majoring and almost no employers will bat an eye if you aren’t truly enthusiastic about everything you’re studying. Your coursework will come easier as well as either your majors will be similar and you’ll have one specific topic you’re focusing on, or your majors are very different and you’re truly passionate about everything you’re studying, making class less of a necessity and more of a fun task. For reference, when I was thinking about triple majoring, it was because I had already taken some core classes and I went through all of the department courses and listed all the classes I was interested in taking. After looking at this list, the triple major just came naturally. This is something I would definitely recommend, as you get to know whether you have enough classes you’re actually interested in. It makes the experience worth it, and much easier. College is amazing because you are not forced to take any classes, you study what you want! Take advantage of this to the fullest extent; don’t major in something just because it will look good. Do it because you like it. My second piece of advice is to use your advisors! Whether it be your peer advisors, your major advisors, or your L&S advisor, they’re a great resources in helping you plan out your schedule! They know the courses with the most workload and the relative success of previous people who might have been in your shoes before, so they know exactly how you feel and how to help you get to where you wanna be! My

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment or email me if you want to learn more, or come to my peer advising office hours! For general questions, other peer advisors also hold weekly office hours found here: https://math.berkeley.edu/programs/undergraduate/advising.

 

Meet Your Peer Advisors!

Hello everyone, and welcome to our first blog post this semester! We’re looking forward to a great semester, and to get you acquainted with us, we thought we’d answer some introductory questions!

Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

  • Fahad: Hey everyone! My name is Fahad Kamran, and I am currently a junior majoring in Math, CS, and Statistics. I have been a TA in a few CS classes and very involved in the education community. In my spare time, I like to head to the gym, play soccer, and play a lot of video games!
  • Katya: Hello, I’m Katya! I’m a Junior Transfer double majoring in Math and CS. I love to teach, come talk to me about being a TA or getting involved with student run organizations that provide tutoring! When I’m not teaching and taking classes I’m skiing, doing yoga, or sleeping.
  • Loek: Hey, I’m Loek. I’m a fourth year applied math major with a concentration in numerical analysis. I’ve participated in many of the opportunities available to undergrads in the department (DRP, REUs, UCEAP Study Abroad, Berkeley Connect, and more) so feel free to come with any questions about those or just life in the department in general! Most of my free time is spent on music, but I also enjoy reading, watching movies, and traveling.
  • Rose: Hi, I’m Rose, a third year Math major. I am really fond of doing math and spend much time on it, but I also like reading, baking, and hiking.
  • Freddy: Hey, I’m Freddy! I’m a third year applied math and statistics major with a concentration in probability. In my free time I’m a big fan of watching movies and classic sitcoms. On top of that I’m also a big fan of cooking (when I have time) and I’ve recently been learning to pickle.
  • Lilian:  Hi, I’m Lilian! I’m a senior year international student majoring in Applied Math with a focus in Actuarial Science. I’m also currently working in library on campus. For free time, except from sleeping, I like to travel all around the world with friends and learn new languages. I also do dancing for several years.

 

Question: What’s your favorite class you’ve taken ever! Not just in Berkeley

  • Fahad: My favorite class I’ve ever taken by far is Stat 134. It opened my eyes to what I thought was a dry subject in Statistics and combined it with the mathematical ideas I like so much that it inspired me to go on and try a Statistics major.
  • Katya: My absolutely favorite class was the first Linear Algebra course I took (although not at Berkeley). My professor would always connect what we were learning to his projects at HP; it made me realize that there were so many things you could do with a degree in Math!
  • Loek: My favorite course was probably Math 128B. I felt like I learned a ton from every lecture and homework problem. I liked the mix of rigor and applicability in the class and it really confirmed for me what exactly I wanted to study. Close runners-up include Math 224A and History C175B.
  • Rose: I find it hard to choose just one favourite course, as I love almost every math course that I’ve taken.So I will instead mention my favourite non-math course, which is one about forensic science that I took on Coursera years ago. That course sated my curiosity about evidence collection and analysis, and provoked me to contemplate questions about death, truth, and justice. Plus, I found the process of crime investigation very similar to the process of solving math problem, and enjoyed that similarity a lot..
  • Freddy: By far my favorite class has been Math 126. It was one of my first upper division classes and it introduced me to so many new ideas in differential equations from both a rigorous perspective as well as an applicable one. Second to this would probably be either Stat 210a or Physics 137a.
  • Lilian: My favorite class so far is Math 10B. It shows me the connections between math and real life. It covers a lot of mathematical topics, although not very deep, which prepares me for many later math and even stat courses. Another favorite class would be Stat 134, which let me, for the very first time, understand probabilities and how to apply them.

 

Question: What’s your favorite place to eat in Berkeley?

  • Fahad: Besides the new taco bell (which is AMAZING), I really love Tuk Tuk Thai. If you haven’t heard it, hit it up on Shattuck; great thai food, great portions, reasonable price.
  • Katya:  I love Sweetgreens! You get to make your own salad – its like cooking without the difficulty of actually putting everything together and cleaning up!
  • Loek: Probably Pizzahhh on Hearst. Easily the most underrated pizza place in Berkeley and maybe the most underrated restaurant overall in Berkeley. Great location, not too expensive, fast, and the food has never let me down.
  • Rose: Wat Mongkolratanaram! This is a thai temple on the corner of Russell and MLK, and it serves brunch to the public on Sundays. The portion sizes there are large, so it would be a good idea to bring friends and share if you want to try more than one dish at a time. I’m not sure if Wat Mongkolratanaram is vegan-friendly (at least there is papaya salad), but it is definitely vegetarian-friendly. By the way, this place accepts only tokens, which can be “purchased” using cash at one of the counters.
  • Freddy: Before it closed down, Makri’s Cafe on University and Shattuck was quite literally the best brunch/diner place in Berkeley. Now that it’s gone I’d probably have to go with Cheese N Stuff down on southside. Great sandwiches, friendly service, and an insane selection of drinks. Works every time.
  • Lilian: HUGE shout out to La Note! My favorite place to hang out with friends for a brunch/lunch in the weekend (although it takes AGES to get a table).

 

Question: If you could become an animal for one day, what animal would it be and why?

  • Fahad: I want to be a dinosaur really badly, just because I feel like they have the most fun in life. Specifically, a pterodactyl because they can fly and have the coolest noises.
  • Katya: I would be a dog, specifically a Golden Retriever, because they always look so happy.
  • Loek: I would want to try being a polar bear. I would get to spend time in a place I’ll probably never visit, swim around a bit, maybe hunt some seals, and I wouldn’t have to worry much about other predators. Plus, go bears, am I right?
  • Rose:  I would like to be an octopus, because its body structure is very different from that of human, and because it has some intelligence. In particular, I want to know what it is like to have no skeleton, three hearts, and two-thirds of my neurons located in my arms.
  • Freddy: If I could be an animal for a day, I’d have to be a gyrfalcon. Mostly because I would need to know what it’d be like to fly in the air completely unsupported, just gliding through on my own wings.
  • Lilian: I’d like to be a koala because I want to know how it feels to sleep all day without worrying about anything.

 

Thanks for reading and we hope you got to know us a bit better! Drop by our office hours for any questions you might have! Our office hours schedule is:

Mondays: 9:30-10:30 AM (Loek), 2-3 PM (Fahad)
Tuesdays: 1-2 PM (Lilian), 3-4 PM (Freddy)
Wednesdays: 11 AM-1 PM (Katya), 1-2 PM (Rose), 2-3 PM (Fahad)
Thursdays: 1-2 PM (Lilian), 3-4 PM (Freddy)
Fridays: 9:30-10:30 AM (Loek), 1-2 PM (Rose)

For more, visit https://math.berkeley.edu/programs/undergraduate/advising and scroll down to “Peer Advisors”

DON’T PANIC, DO THE MATH

Can you believe Evans was once covered in snow?! OMG SO CUTE

“Evans is going to be replaced soon”
“Evans is a windowless dungeon”
“Evans is the ugliest building on campus”

Everyone has heard, maybe even said these types of comments about Evans Hall, the large grayish cube-like building sitting between the Memorial Glade and Hearst Mining Circle.

If you are reading this, then you are probably aware that Evans is home to the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department. What you might not know is that Berkeley has one of the largest math departments in the United States, which raises the number of Berkeley residing mathematicians to a rather staggering amount. Evans also houses the Statistics and Economics departments, which further makes Berkeley a great place to do math. You can easily find others who share your mathematical interests–from algebraic geometry and number theory to logic, from PDE’s or statistics to theoretical neuroscience–Evans has it all.

Since you are still reading, you must be interested in applying, or maybe you are already a student and curious about majoring in math or applied math, or maybe you’ve already made that decision–either way, we congratulate you and welcome you to the math department!

Either way, by now you probably know from the tagline that this is a blog about student life as a member of UC Berkeley math community and what being an undergraduate math student roaming the top 4 floors of that large grayish cube-like building is like. Look around here, and you will find advice from fellow undergraduates about what to do while you’re here at Cal, what to do over the summer or abroad, or what to do after you graduate.

If you have any questions from us, or if you are a student or alumni and you would like to contribute, definitely get in touch with one of the peer advisers or send an email to one of the emails below.

Cheers,
Mahrud Sayrafi [mahrud at berkeley dot edu]
Claire Tiffany-Appleton [claireta at berkeley dot edu]
Eric Chen [a5584266 at berkeley dot edu]
Shu Li [shuli1995 at berkeley dot edu]
Duc Tran [ductran at berkeley dot edu]
John Jimenez [jimenez.john at berkeley dot edu]