December 18, 2018
Margaret Nichols grew up in Minneapolis, MN. She received her BA in math with a minor in computer science from Oberlin College. She is now pursuing her PhD in mathematics with a focus on geometric topology and the study of 3-manifolds. We interviewed her about her experience at the University of Chicago.
Why did you choose UChicago?
Aside from the academic excellence of the UChicago math department and its faculty, I was drawn to two main aspects of the UChicago math PhD program: first, the first-year program, which is essentially a one-year math bootcamp, giving graduate students a broad base of knowledge from which to start their more specific studies and research. As a graduate of a small liberal arts college, I had not previously taken any graduate-level courses, and did not have a solid sense of what I wanted to study in graduate school. The first-year program gave me the opportunity to fill in gaps from my undergraduate education while allowing me the time to determine what I wanted to study. Second, the teaching program, which promised a firsthand teaching experience at the helm of my own classes. This appealed to me significantly more than working as a teaching assistant, as I would have in many other programs.
What noteworthy academic, research, or teaching activities you have pursued while at the UChicago?
I’ve been an active member of the UChicago chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics, including serving previously as president for two years and vice president for a year before that. We organize events aimed at supporting people of all gender minorities in our department, work to foster a friendly departmental culture, and address difficulties we often face.
I have also sought other opportunities to improve graduate student life, including serving terms as a representative for my department on two PSD dean’s committees, and joining the newly-formed PSD GRIT, a team of graduate students acting to increase the representation and success of students from underrepresented backgrounds.
What activities do you participate in outside of the classroom?
I am an avid consumer of food and craft beer, and enjoy making both. I’ve even participated in several homebrew competitions sponsored by UChicago. Ask me a question about Chicagoland craft beer and I probably know the answer! I play intramural sports with other math graduate students, including broomball and softball.
What are your plans post-UChicago?
I am currently in the process of applying for academic postdocs in math. My goal is to continue as a research mathematician.
What support have you received at UChicago?
I am a recipient of the NSF graduate research fellowship, which has provided additional financial support and reprieves from teaching to focus on research. My advisor has been very supportive of me and helped to find opportunities for me to speak about my work outside of UChicago. I’ve also benefited from one-on-one meetings with other faculty on the subjects of both my research and navigating graduate school in general.
If you were speaking to a prospective student, what would you tell them about UChicago?
The faculty in the math department here are very supportive of all graduate students, not just their own advisees. The environment among graduate students is not competitive in the least, and I’ve found the community exceptionally friendly and welcoming.