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Mastering Mathematics

Over the past six months, Ivan Zelich (2015) has been studying at Cambridge University and has now completed his Master of Advanced Study Degree in Mathematics.

18 Jul 2020
Old Boy News

In his senior year at Churchie, Old Boy Ivan Zelich (2015) was awarded the Peter Doherty Award for Outstanding Senior Mathematics and Technology Student. Also in 2015, in collaboration with fellow 17-year-old Xuming Liang from San Diego, he worked on a breakthrough theorem (now known as the Liang-Zelich Theorem) concerning complex pivotal isocubics that was published in a peer-reviewed journal, for which he presented in Washington DC. Over the past six months, Ivan has been studying at Cambridge University and has now completed his Master of Advanced Study Degree in Mathematics. Following is a recollection of his experience and some very sound advice, not only for anyone looking to further their studies abroad but also any budding mathematicians and indeed rowers.

“My experience at the University of Cambridge was unique. The terms in Cambridge are quite a lot different to those in Australia - Michealmas is the first term that runs from October to late November, then Lent runs from January until March, and finally Easter term, which is dedicated to revision and exams, runs from April until June.

Academically, Cambridge can be very intense. I did a Masters in Mathematics, called Part iii, which is one of the most intense mathematical Masters programs in the world. Regardless of your chosen area of study, the fact that the terms are 8-weeks long means that lectures go quick and you need to be ready to stay focused when each term starts. On the other hand, it also means that there is ample revision time for the exams, so having good time management is key! While most of your learning will happen as you try to understand the course work, I believe to take full advantage of what Cambridge has to offer it is important to attend seminars and events outside of your course. I found that this allows you to get close with various professors and to learn a lot of difficult concepts in short periods of time in order to give talks. Finally, if you are interested in getting into industry, I think doing a year at Cambridge is a very good idea. There is lots of demand for Cambridge students by companies in England, and for mathematicians this includes banks and an endless number of hedge funds!

One big feature of Cambridge is the independence of the colleges. Everyone is assigned to a college. Some are more ‘prestigious’ than others, but they all have their own perks that make them unique. Within your college, there are many activities to be involved in, and depending on your academic schedule, it is important to remember not to get involved in too many things! For my college, there was the well-known Darwin College Lecture Series which brings well-respected academics to talk about all sorts of different things related to science. Attending these sorts of events is a perfect way to network! Moreover, if you are a rower reading this, get involved with rowing in your college - it’s really exciting due to the strong rivalries between the different colleges, and more broadly, the historic rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford.

For me, the most memorable events were the formals that ran every week, Friday nights being the main ones. These make the Cambridge experience truly unique, as the halls have such a rich history behind them. Most professors and academics in all disciplines attend, and it is a great chance to meet them! I met a neuroscientist who wanted a mathematician to explain various concepts in geometry (which were my expertise!), and I also connected with a student who is CEO of a start-up that I am currently involved with. It is also a great way to talk to people about current issues and enlighten yourself about the nuances of climate change from a climate scientist for example. Of course, if you are going with your friends, it is a great feeling, after weeks of intense lectures, to let go, drink wine or cider and eat great food under a 1700’s portrait of Sir Isaac Newton. The great thing is that you can be a plus-one to any of your friend’s formals, and in fact it has become a ‘cultural’ sport to attend as many different college formals as you can! Since Cambridge is a college town, there is plenty of time for post-formal shenanigans! Cambridge is also only 45-90 minutes out of London via train depending on which one you get, so it’s easy to travel about.

All in all, it was an incredible 6 months at Cambridge (cut short due to corona virus), and I am very grateful to the Churchie Foundation and the Old Boy’s Association, whose support made my experience memorable with many opportunities.”

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