This article appeared in the Fall 2016-Spring 2017 Bryn Mawr Math Alumnae Newsletter.
In November 2016, the BMC Math Department hosted a panel discussion to inform students about internship opportunities and research experiences for undergraduates (REUs). Yichen Wang '17, Lia Yoo '18, Xinning Yu '16, Westley Mildenhall '17, and I spoke about our participation in research and internships during Summer 2016, and gave advice to fellow students looking for similar options. Yichen was a research assistant in biostatistics at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Westley had participated in the Mathematics TEU (Teaching Experiences for Undergraduates) Program at Brown University, and Lia was a project management summer intern at Vision Driven Consulting in Philadelphia. After the panel, Xinning kindly agreed to talk more about her experience at Ernst & Young, which, along with my time at an REU, highlight the diverse opportunities Bryn Mawr math majors have for summer work.
Finding an Internship or Research Position
Ernst & Young is a “global leader in assurance, tax, transactions, and advisory services." Xinning had known about this company for a long time, and regularly checked its website for internship opportunities. In February 2016, she applied online and received an invitation to fill out their online assessment a week later. After completing the online portion of the application, she had an onsite interview in April, and was soon offered the position.
I learned about the SMALL REU from the National Science Foundation website. The acronym comes from the names of the Williams College professors who founded it: Silva, Morgan, Adams, Lenhart, and Levine. I was looking for a research program involving knot theory, and knew that Colin Adams (the “A" in SMALL), was leading a research group in that area, so I eagerly applied.
Exciting Opportunities and Learning Experiences
Xinning enjoyed the opportunity to work as a consultant. “It is all about learning something new: getting to know unfamiliar industries, working with different people, challenging old ideas and forming fresh ones," she explains. For her summer project, she worked with people from several departments, and “dealt with multiple problems." She said that she “did not realize how difficult it was to build up a financial management system" until she talked to various departments and found that they all had very different needs. Despite the difficulties, she enjoyed getting to think about problems from a “different perspective and integrate all the factors together to achieve a solution."
An experience that stood out for me was getting to present at math conferences. My research group presented at the UnKnot III Conference and at Math Fest 2016. At UnKnot we each had a chance to speak individually, and presented consecutively on topics that built on each other. My presentation was titled “Cusp Crossing Density: Flowers and Packing in Hyperbolic Space," and I spoke about a hyperbolic knot invariant called “cusp crossing density" that we had defined and studied as part of our summer research. At MathFest I presented with a partner on an introduction to hyperbolic space as part of a series of talks where the other members of my group followed with some of our results. It was a great opportunity, and a lot of fun.
Sometimes Xinning's work was “time-consuming and detail-oriented." Other times she would be given a very broad or vague topic to work on. She learned to manage the latter challenge by dividing the topic into smaller pieces in order to present “each part in an organized and understandable way to the clients." There were also times when I felt frustrated by my research project. I was working on problems that no one had answered yet, so I could not look up the solution if I ran into a snag. For example, at one point I was working on what I thought was a family of knots that would end up giving high values for an invariant I was measuring, but it turned out that the values were all lower than those I already had, so I had to start over. At the same time, this experience was also one of the most exciting aspects of my program because, despite temporary setbacks, it was exhilarating to create new mathematics.
Using Skills from Our Time at Bryn Mawr
Whether it was proof writing or presentations, collaboration or critical reading, I regularly used what I had learned as a Bryn Mawr math major in my summer research. While she too used the quantitative skills she learned at Bryn Mawr, Xinning added that she also relied on techniques and knowledge learned outside the math department. From working as a financial consultant to participating in knot theory research, the math major at Bryn Mawr provides its students with useful tools for research and business applications. Bryn Mawr math majors can choose from numerous exciting and challenging summer opportunities.