As one of many UTS students to participate and succeed in international STEM competitions, Anna has used her mathematical talents as a passport to unique experiences in different parts of the world. In April 2019, Anna travelled to Ukraine for the European Girls' Mathematical Olympiad, competing at the EGMO for the second consecutive year. She is one of an incredible eight UTS students have have or will represent Canada at international STEM competitions this year.
Anna shares insights from her experiences in the following Q and A:
What have you most enjoyed and/or been proud of in your EGMO experiences?
Both times, EGMO has been an incredible, humbling and enriching experience in many different ways. EGMO recognizes the hard work of female mathletes and brings together inspirational people, who strive to address the gender disparity in STEM fields, from around the globe. Meeting other girls at EGMO helped me to put my journey as a female in STEM in perspective; I have become more appreciative of all the opportunities I have been given and the importance of inclusion and diversity.
Another highlight of my EGMO experience was working on complex, novel and intriguing problems and having the opportunity to discuss the problem solving strategies and techniques with many talented and diverse contestants. The contest itself was very demanding. Contestants are being scored and ranked on their results on six problems over nine hours total. I was able to finish some problems relatively quickly, but a couple of the problems were rather challenging, and after the competition I kept on thinking about new approaches to solve these problems and improve my skills.
I also really enjoyed the international and social aspect of EGMO, such as meeting other girls from all around the world who shared similar interests, experiences, perspectives, successes and challenges, and brought unique cultural perspectives not only on mathematics, but also on their secondary and post-secondary STEM educational experiences.
In addition to EGMO, you have also won awards and travelled to places like Harvard University for competitions. What accomplishments most stand out to you in your UTS career?
I would say that attending EGMO has been one of my biggest accomplishments in math competitions. It took a lot of patience and determination to be selected for the team. Along the way, I also had the opportunity to attend several IMO training programs, which really stood out for me because of their intensity, outstanding participants, and top-notch training from experienced instructors.
In addition to competitions, I enjoy learning about advanced mathematics beyond the high school curriculum, sharing my knowledge with other students and helping them to enjoy and succeed in mathematics. Our school’s scholarship traditions are very strong, and I hope that we will expand the math community at UTS beyond competitions, and make extracurricular outreach math opportunities more accessible to the school community by inspiring a genuine interest in mathematics and supporting the enjoyment of this wonderful subject. We need to expand outreach events and activities, as they empower the students to develop interest in STEM and better guide their life choices.
What qualities do you feel allow someone to perform well in competitions?
To succeed in any competitive event, whether it be mathematics, debate, athletics, or any other competitive activity, one needs to have a genuine interest in the area they want to compete in, determination and discipline, and an ability to learn from the experience.
“Follow your passion” can sound like a cliché, but it is very true. It would be very difficult to maintain a focused effort over several years on something if you are not passionate about it. Although I enjoy a variety of different subjects (almost all of them), I always had a genuine interest in mathematical theory and its applications. This interest has motivated me to take new advanced courses, read specialized books, learn about the history of math and related disciplines, and train for competitions.
Another important quality is determination and discipline. It can be challenging to balance competition training with a demanding school workload and other extracurricular activities. At times, we have to push ourselves to keep going despite sacrifices along the way, prioritize our activities, and try to keep different aspects of our life in balance. For me, the benefits extend in both ways; my participation in contests has benefitted from my determination, and my determination has strengthened over time because of my involvement in contests.
Finally, it is very important to learn how to deal with disappointments and “failures”, which are inevitable in any competitive activity, and develop the skill of perseverance. Any success, as well as any failure, can be seen as a learning opportunity. Developing this ability to bounce back and keep trying has been very important in my journey. Over time, I have learned not to let my scores define me and to focus on the bigger picture.
What role have your UTS teachers played in developing your math abilities and helping you succeed in competition?
I feel very lucky to go to such an excellent school that supports its students at many different levels, including academic knowledge, life skills and resilience, and co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and positions us well for future success at university and beyond. Those things would not happen without outstanding teachers and the dedicated school administration. The school and all my teachers have been very supportive and have always shown interest and willingness to help. We also have an outstanding number of opportunities to choose from. I am very grateful for these opportunities, which not many other high schools in Canada offer.
The UTS Math Department especially has been crucial for my development in mathematics, as the math teachers work very hard to give us as many exclusive opportunities as they can. For example, UTS sends math teams to different competitions in Canada and the US. The math department also pools resources and training, and provides mentorship systems for younger students to learn from more experienced students.
What is it about math that interests you and motivates you?
Overall, I see mathematics as a fundamental, creative and very versatile subject. Unfortunately, there’s a common perception that competitive mathematics is all that high school extracurricular math revolves around. Contests are very interesting and useful to work towards, but there’s so much more out there. While it’s easy to get caught up in test scores and rankings, the moments I enjoy the most are learning, working with others, and gaining a deeper appreciation for mathematical ideas and their real life applications.
I love thinking about how and why different theorems and patterns work, and how they interconnect. It is really remarkable how math forms a basis for so many other subjects- to name a few, physics, economics, voting theory, computer science, cognitive sciences, computational linguistics, finance, forecasting, and statistics. It is fascinating to see how many different disciplines adapt and develop the same mathematical concepts to investigate and solve fundamentally different problems. Building a strong foundation in mathematics opens doors to many careers, develops such important skills as logic and problem solving, and helps us to analyze and understand the world around us.