My Journey to Explore my Passion and Place in the World of Mathematics

By Phillip Luong, Monash University

My love for mathematics has been with me for as long as I can remember. My parents always recall stories of how fun it was to help me practice addition and subtraction using chopsticks at a very young age. They nurtured my little knack for playing with numbers through Primary School, writing notebooks full of arithmetic problems for me to complete. As gruelling as it may have sounded, I appreciate the effort that they had put in after noticing my knack for it. Throughout my childhood, they continued to acknowledge and support my growing enjoyment of what mathematics had to offer.

Unfortunately, when I had to think about future studies, continuing mathematics was low priority. To me, mathematics was a subject that only the elite could use to be successful. I wanted a profession that would allow me to maximise the number of people I could help – a problem that, ironically, studying mathematics would fail to solve.

I decided to pursue a degree in Biomedical Science, to do medicine in the future. I also considered taking math subjects as my elective to fuel my interests. I talked to many of my lecturers, tutors and peers about what I could do with maths, and how each topic I learnt could be applied practically anywhere. By contrast, Biomedical Science, although interesting, was lacking the same vision I had with maths. I would always lean more towards an understanding of the numerical elements that could represent biochemical pathways, and gene expression. I yearned to understand more about the rigour behind each statistical test, over what significant finding they really found.

My passion for mathematics reignited. I needed to complete a maths degree. As part of my Biomedical Science Research Project, I selected a project to analyse and model the spread of infectious diseases. That experience became the turning point in my life where I figured out my place in mathematics, and how I can make a positive contribution in society through mathematics. Since then, I have worked on projects related to public health, traffic modelling, optimisation, and financial mathematics. Although some have not been extremely successful, I have learnt a lot from these experiences in maths, and about myself.

The accumulation of this knowledge helped me realise the creativity that comes from learning and teaching mathematics, which is what I want to show to others. The way mathematicians find creative solutions to what appeared to be an impossible problem keeps me motivated to work hard and hopefully inspire others to see the same.

Phillip Luong was one of the recipients of a 2017/18 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.

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