Leanne and I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Carl, who is a current PhD student here at the University of East Anglia. Starting here in 2018, Carl has almost finished his PhD titled “The word problem in combinatorial group and semigroup theory” under the supervision of Dr Robert Gray.
Hi Carl! As you didn’t complete your undergrad here in the UK, how have you found studying in two different countries?
So, for me, studying maths in a different country is what I’m doing right now; I’m Swedish originally. I grew up in Stockholm and I did my undergraduate degree in Uppsala which is this really lovely University city.
In terms of courses, it’s fairly standard across the board, PhD studies are quite different from Bachelor studies because there’s not a fixed schedule. I did my master’s up in St Andrews where I had fixed modules so the one big difference there was language. Most courses would start off with the first few years in Swedish and then it switches to English speaking. Learning maths is a language on its own!
Have you always been more of a pure mathematician?
No, during my undergrad I did a little bit of both. During my masters I had one module called Topics in Groups, which is about an area called Combinatorial Group Theory, it is a way of looking at infinite groups. This area really clicked for me, during this module there was an advert to study a PhD at the University of East Anglia under Dr Robert Gray. So, I decided to apply and that is where I am now.
What are you doing after your PhD?
That is what I’m in the process of figuring out right now. I’m applying to lots of post docs, which are research positions. Usually, they are very hard to get and COVID has made it even harder. I’ve got a few interviews coming up soon!
Have your studies been affected by COVID at all?
The beauty of pure maths is that you can do the research wherever you are, so COVID hasn’t affected me in that way. I did have some conference trips lined up, for example Australia, which the university normally pays for as part of my PhD, but these had to be cancelled.
What is the craziest thing that has happened during your PhD?
I managed to learn Russian! I was raised bilingually, speaking both English and Swedish – I even managed to learn French during school and through friends. So learning different languages comes naturally to me. I wanted to look at a few maths papers, but they were in Russian and there weren’t any good translations. So, by reading and translating a bunch of papers I started getting the hang of reading Russian.
Do you have a piece of advice for people considering doing a PhD at UEA?
Apply in good time, ask for reference letters in advance. Don’t be afraid to apply for a PhD in a topic you haven’t fully studied before. If it seems like a good supervisor and a nice place to study, then go for it! At UEA specifically, the interview was a nice process overall, I met up with Dr Robert Gray (everyone knows him as Bob) and had a walk with a coffee around the famous UEA lake. Having interviews are amazing experience for future applications, even if you don’t get it. Most important of all, go with your gut feeling!
Now time for the quick fire round:
Pure or Applied maths?
Tea or Coffee?
What book are you reading at the moment?
Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges.
Are you a morning or a night person?
More towards night.
What’s your favourite Greek letter?
I really like the look of capital lambda ($\Lambda$).
What’s your least favourite Greek letter?
Xi ($\xi$), one of the ones you draw by just squiggling your pen.
Who is your favourite mathematician?
John Britton – he has quite a sad story and deserves some more recognition.