Testimonials And Advice From Doctoral Alumni
Michael Brannan, PhD 2012 (Assistant Prof., Texas A&M Univ. (TAMU))
I look back with great fondness at my time as a graduate student in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Queen's University.
On the academic side:
- I really think there is something very nice about doing a PhD in a small to mid-sized department. At Queen's the result of this was a very closely knit community of graduate students and faculty members. For me, this resulted in beneficial interactions with department members from a variety of fields of mathematics (control, communications, algebra, geometry, analysis,...). Without a doubt, these interactions shaped who I am as a mathematician today.
- Another nice feature of the department's size was the weekly colloquium. This event was always well-attended, and provided a relaxed and informal atmosphere for grad students and faculty to learn about what is going on outside their own immediate mathematical world. Having worked in a few large math departments since being at Queen's, I have come to realize that these sorts of regular events don't exist everywhere. Sometimes, the larger the department, the less likely people are to interact!
- My experiences being supervised by Queen's faculty was also very positive. The math department at Queen's has many internationally well-regarded faculty members who are experienced in graduate supervision. My situation was no exception: my supervisors gave me plenty of guidence and support, but also allowed me the freedom to develop my own mathematical taste and intuition.
- In the last two years of my doctoral program, I was given the opportunity to serve as the instructor of record for two undergraduate courses. Having the freedom and responsibility associated with such a opportunity was an invaluable part of my training. The Department of Math & Stats also has an excellent teaching mentorship program for graduate students, which provides one on one guidence from a faculty member who helps them prepare for the time when they become instructors themselves. I found this to be very beneficial.
Living in Kingston:
Kingston is truly a wonderful place to spend your years as a grad student. The Queen's campus is very picturesque, and the lively Kingston city center is within an easy walk. In fact, in Kingston, one can easily get along without a car at all (something that is not so common in North American college towns).
Jonathan Novak, PhD 2009 (Assistant Prof., University of California, San Diego (UCSD))
In Fall 2004 I moved to Kingston to start an M.Sc. at Queen’s. In my first year as a Masters student, I took the standard graduate core courses in algebra and analysis, and found them very helpful in solidifying and extending the base of mathematical knowledge I had acquired as an undergraduate. At the same time, I met frequently with my advisor and attended the weekly seminar on probabilistic operator algebras. Attending the seminar helped to give me an idea of what the current research trends were in functional analysis; it was also enormously useful to see firsthand and how research-level mathematics is communicated. I was encouraged to present results from papers I was reading in the seminar, and this proved to be a very effective mechanism for accruing enough background knowledge to get started on my own research. After completing my masters, I decided to stay on at Queen’s and work towards a PhD. While it might have been possible to move to a larger graduate program to pursue my doctorate, I felt that the level of individual attention I was getting from my supervisor at Queen’s was unlikely to be matched elsewhere. By this time I had developed a good rapport with my advisor, and he gave me substantial leeway in finding my own dissertation topic while simultaneously ensuring that I was not straying towards problems that were either impossibly difficult or unlikely to be of sufficient depth and interest. I believe that this hands-off approach was very important in my development as a researcher, and greatly helped me to hone my own sense of what is interesting and important; this is perhaps the most important skill in research, and without it technical proficiency is useless.
I ultimately settled on a dissertation topic which overlapped somewhat with the core interests of the professors in the functional analysis group, but was not directly linked to their own research. However, far from this being a problem, the group was very supportive and showed great interest in learning more about the topic I had selected, frequently giving me opportunities to talk about the early stages of my thesis writing in the weekly seminar. This process resulted in a large amount of feedback which was very useful in zeroing in on the exact set of questions I wanted to address in my dissertation, and at every stage of thesis writing I felt that I had senior people around me who were more than superficially interested in my work. In short, it was the perfect balance of individual self-guided effort tempered by experience.
In addition to being very generous with his time, my Ph.D. supervisor, and more generally the entire math department, was very generous with resources. I was given many opportunities to attend national and even international research conferences, and in this way I was exposed to the work of the leading figures in my research area, and given the opportunity to connect with the broader research community. This greatly helped me to build my research profile and acquire a necessary baseline visibility for securing a postdoctoral position, and I am enormously grateful to the mathematics department for their support and generosity.
After completing my PhD at the end of 2009, I held short-term postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Waterloo and the MSRI in Berkeley, and then moved on to a four-year instructorship at MIT. Following this, I became an assistant professor at the University of California in 2015. Now, as a professional mathematician with my own career underway, I remain in contact with my Ph.D. supervisor and many other faculty members at Queen’s, and return for regular visits. Several of the researchers I met while a graduate student at Queen’s are today my closest collaborators. Indisputably, my involvement with the Queen's math department shaped my development as a researcher, and continues to do so today.
Akiko Manada, PhD 2009 (Assistant Prof., The Univ. of Electro-Communications, Japan)
I really enjoyed the study at Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Queen’s. Everyone in the department was so enthusiastic in learning, and encouraged each other for completing their degree. In particular, a weekly seminar organized by students was a good opportunity to share the knowledge in different areas. I also have to emphasize that professors were also great in teaching and supervising. I believe that I could finish my degree thanks to their kind and warm help.
Yangfan Zhong, PhD 2008 (VP, Senior Quantitative Finance Analyst, Bank of America Merrill Lynch)
My six years of study at Queen's were one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. The program's coursework and academic training provided me with solid foundations in probability theory and stochastic processes, analysis, and statistical learning, in addition to my main area of research. The professors in the department were enthusiastic and dedicated. In particular, I benefited tremendously from the guidance I received from my supervisors. Influenced by them, I developed a detail-oriented and mathematically rigorous approach to research as well as thinking and analytical skills that have to date played a decisive role in my career and will continue to benefit me in the future. I also greatly appreciated the collaborative environment provided by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. During my graduate studies, I was offered many opportunities to attend eminent international conferences to share research ideas, and I was able to collaborate on research papers with other professors and colleagues. As an international student, I would say that Queen's University is very generous and supportive. I am currently working as a quantitative analyst in the Financial Industry. The academic training and skills I received from Queen's have proved to constitute my most valuable assets.
Yadong Wang, PhD 2007 (Senior Risk Manager at Scotiabank, Toronto)
My five-year graduate studies at Queen's are one of the best memories in my life. I certainly enjoyed the beauty and quietness of Queen's campus and the city of Kingston, the great atmosphere that fosters independent and dynamic research, the passion and enthusiasm of Queen's fellow students, but most importantly, the strong foundation I built which prepared me well for my future career. The mathematical training I received at Queen's was crucial for my current role as a model risk manager in a prominent financial institution, where many of the financial products and risk capital models intricately involve important concepts from probability theory, statistics, numerical analysis, and stochastic calculus, to name a few. The knowledge I accumulated through my graduate studies has served me well, and the research experience I acquired also taught me how to learn new subjects effectively and efficiently. The discipline instilled in me was another important factor for my career. I am very grateful to my supervisors, not only for their great supervision and direction of my doctoral research, but also for their attitude towards perfection and rigor. Last but not least, the writing and communication skills that I developed at Queen's were also very important. I still remember my supervisors scrutinizing my research papers line by line and imparting in me good writing habits, which were very beneficial for my current role where I need to write numerous financial model documents. In general I would like to thank the Mathematics and Statistics Department and its graduate program for giving me the fantastic opportunity to study at Queen's.
Sebi Cioaba, PhD 2006 (Associate Prof., University of Delaware)
I had a great time at Queen’s and my memory of the Department will always be a positive one. My graduate studies prepared me well for my future career in academia and I am grateful to the Faculty and the Department overall for a great atmosphere that encourages learning and research.
Kaneenika Sinha, PhD 2006 (Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune)
I have very fond memories of my stay at Queen's and appreciate the guidance and encouragement not only from my advisor but from many other professors who taught me. The faculty members were very friendly and I could confidently walk into their offices whenever I needed to discuss mathematical questions. I had my first experience of teaching at Queen's University and remember the hands-on help and feedback provided by the department in every aspect of teaching and administering a course. The overall atmosphere at Queen's for graduate students was healthy and supportive. We graduate students had a strong sense of camaraderie. Other than regular seminars in our research areas, we had a weekly grad student seminar which gave each of us an opportunity to learn what the other was doing. The weekly colloquium was also a great way of learning mathematics and interacting with many faculty members. I have worked at many places since graduating from Queen's and am now a faculty member at IISER Pune in India. Over the years, I have come to realize that what the mathematics department at Queen's gave us there was truly special: a strong platform for academic growth as well as a nurturing atmosphere in which we all felt we belonged.
Libo Zhong, PhD 2005 (Sr Revenue Manager and Pricing Optimization Quality Engineer, SAS, North Carolina)
Studying mathematics at Queen's was the most important milestone of my life. I was very grateful that my supervisors and the Department accepted my application though my undergraduate degree was in Chemical Physics. My supervisors were very instrumental in helping me adapt to my graduate studies and research as well as my new environment in Kingston. In five and half years at Queen's I acquired a solid mathematical foundation and analytical skills for successfully tackling diverse difficult problems. Upon graduating from Queen's, I worked in the areas of data analysis and predictive modeling at a digital security company, a government institution, a prominent financial institution, and recently at a leading statistical software company. I encountered no difficulty in switching career paths and developing new skills. I am grateful for this to the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
Adam Van Tuyl, PhD 2001 (Associate Prof., McMaster Univ.)
I obtained both my M.Sc. (in 1997) and my Ph.D. (in 2001) from Queen's. I greatly enjoyed my time at Queen's, and looking back, I realized the department and the graduate program gave me a number of excellent opportunities and experiences. From a research point-of-view, I was exposed to a lot of current research through the well attend seminars and colloquiums. I was also able to make contacts with a number of mathematicians outside of the department. I also was able to attend a number of research conferences and workshops, both at Queen's and off-campus. From a teaching point-of-view, I was quite fortunate to be able to teach a number of classes as a Ph.D. student, and receive some excellent mentorship. I still maintain some contact with the math department at Queen's, and I always enjoy returning to Kingston to visit the campus.
Tim Ramsay, PhD 2000 (Assistant Prof., Univ. Ottawa)
I did an honours undergrad in math and a master's in commutative algebra. I loved the elegance and beauty of algebra but then I chose to do a PhD in statistics and it was possibly the best decision of my life. First, I found that with my background in pure math it was very easy to learn statistics. For most people, the math is the hard part. For me, it was simple. Second, I found that the demand for good statisticians greatly exceeds the supply of good statisticians. There are tons of jobs available. They aren't always posted as needing a statistician. There are lots of other terms that people use: data scientist, analyst, modelling, etc.
I am now in a position of scientist with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and when we have needed to hire statisticians, it has been incredibly hard to find any qualified applicants. If you like math, but want to use math in an applied setting, you could do a lot worse than taking up statistics as a career!