Antony’s Maths Journey

By Antony Kennett, Monash University

Mathematics has always been a huge part of my life. My parents love to tell me the story of the time I decided to fill in an entire maths book before I could properly read, because the rules of maths made more sense to me than reading. Also at a young age, when trying to grapple with the elusive concept of infinity, I would repeatedly call my grandparents to ask if the biggest number I could think of was high enough to reach it. Throughout my schooling I thrived on learning more about what numbers could do and tried to derive rules and find patterns that I hoped had not yet been discovered by the great minds that rested upon on the shoulders of giants.

Yet, at 16 I was led astray. Advisors without the same appreciation of and passion for mathematics convinced me that while it may be beautiful, it would not be practical as a career path on its own. Like many maths and science students before me, I was advised to study engineering as it would involve ‘a lot of maths’ and would ‘get me a job’. So in 2012 I embarked upon a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Engineering at Monash University. The former to broaden my horizons and open up diverse career paths, and the latter, because I was led to believe that it was the only real and practical way to apply my mathematical skills.

But this false advice could not hold me back forever. For me, I could not imagine a world without the pure logic of numbers and their absolute truth, so the law, along with its vagaries, countless and conflicting interpretations and multiple correct answers quickly became a source of frustration as I searched for blacks and whites in a world of greys. And with only two maths units in my course structure, my supposedly ‘maths-filled’ Engineering degree rapidly lost its appeal.

So after much advice and consideration, I gave up the study of Engineering in pursuit of my true passion, mathematics. My imagination was once again captivated by the pure logic and endless possibilities that only mathematics can provide. While I didn’t know where I wanted my path to take me, I made the switch because I knew that this was the road that I needed to travel down. Without studying and immersing myself with mathematics, I was incomplete.

The more involved I get in mathematics, the more I remember why I have been drawn to it for as long as I can remember. Now, having had work experience in mathematical professions and spent the summer working on a project that is mathematics at its purest – a problem that must be solved for its own sake – I feel at home. I may have taken the long way here, but I have learned that following your passion is key, and that focusing on ‘should do’s’ and conventional wisdom is not the way to truth, a lesson that mathematics has always taught us. As I conclude my research on percolation on infinite arrays of cellular automata, I appreciate why I am where I am, why I am who I am, and that I still have a long way to go until I understand infinity.

 

Antony Kennett was one of the recipients of a 2016/17 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.

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