"In mathematics you either get some result or you don’t and there is nothing in between"

The HSE Look welcomes aboard Postdoctoral Fellow at the Faculty of Mathematics, Alexandra Skripchenko!
What do you do in mathematics?

I work at the intersection of several different subjects: dynamic systems, low-dimensional topology, and geometric group theory. My main point of interest is related to the description of dynamics – evolution of complex systems in time. The origin of the problem is connected with theoretical physics. However, the tools that are used are much more diversified and include some achievements from other branches of maths.

How can mathematical discoveries influence our everyday life?

First of all, maths is the basis and common language of physics, and in my world most problems that we consider have purely physical origin. Also, some branches of mathematics have direct applications in finance and in economics in general. In this sense every day in Russia when we check the oil price forecast, we use mathematical products. Also computer science, data mining and other fields require a strong mathematical background from people who work with it. Mathematicians (mainly probabilists) also work on models for chemistry and biology. On the other hand I have to admit that often mathematicians approach some very abstract problems, and possible applications of their theories arrive much later, in 40 or 50 years, when this subject has become less scientifically interesting and attractive.

Do you think mathematicians have a somewhat different perspective on things than other people?

Of course, in Russia we have jokes such as “Mathematics is not a profession but a diagnosis.” According to stereotypes we are supposed to be extremely logical, very boring and very distant from the real world. I think the first part of the stereotype is true and the rest depends on each concrete person. I don’t think that as a science mathematics is so very different from other sciences. But as a lifestyle it is quite different from other regular work with plenty of duties and no pure research. In mathematics you are much freer and your evaluation is more objective than in business, where for example, you either get some result or you don’t and there is nothing in between.

How do you feel working at a new place with new colleagues?

I am a Muscovite from birth. I was an undergraduate and graduate student at MSU, so I knew several people before I came here. People have been very welcoming and it has been easy to incorporate myself into the faculty structure. Also, we have very brilliant team in several different branches of maths, and I try to use this opportunities to learn things like geometry from these people.

What are your work plans?

I want to continue to do what I am doing now – proving new theorems, discussing them with my colleagues and learning new things every year. I hope to have the opportunity to collaborate with people from different countries because it means getting in touch with different mathematical cultures. I would like to share some of my experience and to involve students in my research. As for my geographic location, it is not important since mathematicians travel so much.

Alexandra Skripchenko was born in Moscow and received the degree of the Candidate of Science from Moscow State University in 2012. Upon graduation she spent a couple of years in France as a research fellow at the Institut Mathematiques de Jussieu in Paris. In addition to work she enjoys reading, going to the movies, and sports – both playing and watching. Another interest is corporate finance, an area that Skripchenko used to specialize in. In September 2014 she started her postdoctoral fellowship at the Faculty of Mathematics at HSE.

The full text of the issue can be found in The HSE LooK 1 (18), Jan. 2015. If you are not on our regular mailing list yet, please subscribe and get fresh issues of our bulletin every month!