November 2, 2023
Isabella Scott, born in San Francisco and brought up between there and London, earned a BSc in Pure Maths from the University of St Andrews. They are now a 6th-year PhD student in Math, studying mathematical logic, “which sort of studies the ‘mathematics of mathematics’,” Isabella explains. They’re interested in looking at mathematical constructions that cannot be performed by a computer and trying to understand just how much more information a computer would need to solve them. We interviewed them about their experiences at UChicago.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
Because I knew I would be happy here. I had done an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) and loved the people I met and the culture of the school. Graduate school is a long—and fairly intense—experience and, while there are many schools with strong research programs, the mathematics department has a strong sense of community, which has really kept me sane during difficult periods. I’ve never been around such hard-working, passionate, weird people who continually both challenge and support me.
Please describe something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.
I’m proud of my progress as a research mathematician. It’s not been an easy journey, but I finally feel like I’m finding my footing in research. It’s definitely still a work in progress, and I am so grateful for the support of my wonderful advisors, Professors Denis Hirschfeldt and Maryanthe Malliaris.
On a non-mathematical note, I also conducted my first quarter peal during my time at UChicago! This is a milestone in change ringing, which is a form of bell ringing that is more mathematical than musical. If this sounds interesting, look up the UChicago Guild of Change Ringers and come check out what we do!
What has been your most memorable class and why?
V—it's got everything in it! [For the non-mathematicians, V is the set theorists’ notation for the “entire mathematical universe.” They call such objects “classes” as opposed to most objects, which are “sets,” because they’re essentially too big to be a set.—Ed.]
What is your favorite restaurant or food truck in Hyde Park? What is your favorite dish?
Technically it might be just north of Hyde Park, but I don’t think Gorée Cuisine gets enough attention. As a vegetarian, I love their veggie maffe.
What is your favorite campus spot and why?
I do change ringing with the UChicago Guild of Change Ringers up in Mitchell Tower above the Reynolds Club, so that is a special place for me. For working, I like sitting in my office by the window, especially if it’s raining.
What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom or lab?
I try to go hiking as often as possible. I also enjoy change ringing and crosswords!
What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the city so far (tours, concerts, parades, games, etc.)?
I always love the Open House Chicago, during which a bunch of interesting buildings throughout the city open up their doors to the public. Did you know we have the tallest church building in the world here in Chicago?
What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
My advisors, Profs. Denis Hirschfeldt and Maryanthe Malliaris, have been absolutely incredible. In particular, Prof. Malliaris’ guidance during a summer REU was part of what made me pick UChicago in the first place. And they’ve both provided so much wisdom throughout the whole labyrinthine process of getting a PhD.
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?
As a mentor in the REU and an organizer/mentor in the DRP, I’ve really enjoyed working with a broad range of undergraduates on higher-level projects. I hope that by interacting so closely with them, they see that graduate students are real, flawed human beings, and that they can do it too!
What advice or insights do you have for new or prospective Maroons?
Find a balance. You’re here for academic reasons, but there’s a lot more to your experience than that. Talk to your peers and go on crazy adventures! And it really helps to have a hobby that you can make measurable progress in when research seems to stall.
What are your plans post-UChicago?
Continue having fun! For now, that means looking for academic positions, but the long term is still wide open.
If you could choose one word to describe the University of Chicago, what would it be?
I know I’m not supposed to say this, but “fun”!