SSH Student Stories: Interview with Bakhytzhan Kurmanbek who got into University of British Columbia, Canada

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1) Please tell us about yourself

Hello from beautiful Vancouver; I am Bakytzhan, a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada. I am a Summa Cum Laude Alumni of Nazarbayev University (2021) with a major in Mathematics.  In my bachelor studies, I worked as a Research Assistant of professors Yogi Erlangga and Yerlan Amanbek on explicit inverses of higher-order difference operators and proving the convergence of fixed-point iterations to them.

2) How did you understand that you want to become a mathematician? Why did you choose Mathematics as your major? 

My interest in mathematics started when my mom bought me many interesting math books related to logical thinking and math puzzles. Then, I participated in lots of math olympiads and competitions at high school. Sense of relaxation and happiness when solving challenging problems was the primary motivation for studying maths at university. Math is a beautiful and broad science that I can use in many fields, and I especially liked its application in computer sciences and physics. 

3) What were your research interests while studying at the university?

I have always been passionate about working with numbers and finding patterns in specific applicational problems. In my sophomore year, I began working with prof Yogi in solving the fourth-order differential equations numerically with the fixed-point method. After some work, I dived into the linear algebra part of the problem, which was one of the most exciting parts of this research. The central part of my research was finding the explicit inverse formulas for Penta and Seven diagonal matrices and proving the fixed-point iterations’ convergence. When prof Yogi left our university, I worked collaboratively with prof Yerlan and did thrilling and beautiful math for two years. Our many joint works have been published in peer-reviewed journals. 

4) What did you like most about the program BSc in Mathematics? 

BSc in Mathematics is one of the unique programs in SSH; it gives each student diversity in finding their way, not only in math but in many different related fields: physical, computer and biological sciences. I tried to take as many math courses as I could from my department, and each of them was interesting, and professors were quite knowledgeable and challenged students to make their knowledge solid. Most of our professors are open-minded and easily approachable in terms of research, study and help. 

5) How did you spend your student life? Did you participate in any student clubs, societies, competitions?

It was terrific, full of joy, and unforgettable. I was a vice president of the Academic Department in the SIAM Student Chapter. We organized the first math olympiad among NU students, celebrated PI Day, and many other events like Pizza Party, Guest Lectures, Talks, and Math Football. Besides this, as senior and junior math students, we organized Midterm and Final Nights to help younger students succeed in their subjects. In addition, I was a tutor in the math department for several courses, and aiding and supporting them was one of my favourites at NU. 

6) How has the NU SSH experience impacted you?

In these four years, it completely changed my life for a positive side. Thanks to NU, I had lifetime opportunities to meet with different people and learned many other things that helped me become who I am right now. It gave me memories that I will cherish for the whole of my life. I had not expected that, but it was fantastic and probably the most memorable four years of my life. 

7) When did you decide to apply for the University of British Columbia? How did you start your preparation? 

When I started preparing my documents and information about grad schools, I looked to Canada’s top universities in math. UBC was one of the most reputable universities with an exciting selection of math professors in a beautiful location with a great campus in Vancouver. I knew that prof Yogi was a postdoc at this university, and his student (also from NU) was already studying here. After careful searching, reading their websites, and discussing them with my supervisors, I sent my application in December. After two months, they contacted me, and I was interviewed by two exciting professors (my current supervisors) and passed it successfully. One and a half weeks after, I received an acceptance letter. 

8) How is your study going there? 

I am taking two courses, and they’re pretty good and require hard work and dedication. Besides, I am a Research and Teaching Assistant at UBC. So, time management is the number one required skill here. 

9) Based on your student experience, what advice would you give to newly minded students? Any suggestions?

For math students, I suggest taking many math courses, seeing which field they might feel comfortable and enjoyable to work in and spend their time as their future job. It always helps to see the general picture of your actions and thoughts, enabling you to stay on the right track. Talking to grad and senior students might help to understand what to expect and prepare for possible future challenges. Challenge yourself, join a club and interact with different people, make friends and connections. Besides studying, do work out, swim and take care of yourself. 

10) What mathematicians do you dream to collaborate or work with? Who are your role models in mathematics? For example, we have a young Professor at our School – Durvudkhan Suragan, who has received many awards in the field of mathematics.

Yes, I can say my role model is Durvudkhan Suragan; he is a talented and energized young researcher, and someday, I hope we’ll collaborate on some projects. In his first year of work at NU, I took a course from him, and we used to talk about research and exciting topics together. Every researcher is unique somehow, but what I look at in researchers is their personalities, worldviews, and priorities. 

11) Please tell us about your plans for the future?

I am planning to continue my studies in Ph.D. Then, I want to work as a math professor at university. Today, I am more interested in teaching and researching because it makes me smile and feel satisfaction about my life.