Assistant Professor of Mathematics
So, this is your first year here.
Were you moving from a different office?
I was in Nebraska finishing my PhD, so I was in a shared graduate student office. I had one shelf, and now it’s like this explosion of space, which is really exciting. I can put everything everywhere!
Did you see yourself translating any of those organizing principles from Nebraska when you moved here?
Definitely. In Nebraska, I also had my graduate textbooks arranged by color because I’m more likely to remember what the book looks like than the specific author or any other identifying information about it. I’m a very visual-tactile person. I’m like, okay, big yellow book—look in the yellow section. And that’s how I organized my stuff back there, too. It’s funny to see this as a new design principle because, I guess, it became about being pretty, but it’s also just about practicality.
Were the shelves this pretty green when you moved in?
Yeah, I was delighted because this is one of my favorite colors.
It works really nicely with the other things going on in here.
Yeah, there’s a lot of green.
So, besides books, you have a lot of pictures, sock monkeys.
The pictures on the middle shelf are of Courtney the Gibbon, who is a gibbon at the International Primate Protection League. As you go out into the job market, you get a little paranoid, so you do these Google searches for yourself and one day she came up. I found out more about her, and began to feel a little bit of an affinity for this little gibbon. I even talked about her in my job talk, actually, because some of the math that I do has applications to evolutionary biology and figuring out when species diverged from a common ancestor. So, she was my example. It was Courtney Gibbons and Courtney the Gibbon, which was fun.
You’re enjoying teaching here?
I am, I really like it here. It feels like a really good fit.
The math department’s great.
Yeah, it’s amazing. They’ve been so helpful. Anytime I have any questions, I can get lots of different perspectives, and no one’s really hurt if I don’t follow their advice. They kind of understand that I learn by making mistakes and so they’re not too smug when they’re like, “See, I told you?” and I’m like, “I know,” and they’re like, “Well, you figured it out now.”
That’s my academic lineage. I’m at the bottom, and my advisors are above me, and their advisors are above them. It goes back, sort of in this increasingly folklorish way of, “I think so and so was advised by so and so” and at some point one of the Bernoulli brothers was in seminary and all of his religious ancestors get in the mix. But I had students come in and they were putting green sticky notes next to mathematicians they’ve heard of. It’s a little bit humbling looking at these people thinking, wow I’m really standing on the shoulders of giants, I better accomplish something interesting or I’ll feel like it was wasted on me.
A lot the books you have here are pretty academic. Are there any of them that represent something more personal or sentimental?
The green crocheted thing is actually a dissertation baby blanket. [My friend and I] were sort of joking, who knows whether we’ll have kids or not, and the only thing we’ve produced so far is this dissertation. I was saying, I’ve made so many baby blankets for my friends, and I’m starting to feel a little left out. So she crocheted right over a binder, and my dissertation is sitting inside of it. It’s pretty cute.
Interview by Bonnie Wertheim
Photo by Sean D. Henry-Smith