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My time at UW: Growing into a true interdisciplinary researcher

Submitted by Tony I Garcia on August 12, 2021 - 12:00pm

By Hannah Choi

I finished my postdoctoral training in the Department of Applied Mathematics (Amath) at the University of Washington about 8 months ago and started as an assistant professor in the School of Mathematics at the Georgia Institute of Technology in January. I have always loved the culture and environment of UW Amath, and I appreciate them even more now. Most of all, Amath nurtures true interdisciplinary thinking and welcomes postdocs as an important part of the community. 

I first came to UW Amath as a WRF Innovation Postdoctoral Fellow through UW Institute for Neuroengineering (UWIN). This program allowed me to immerse myself in data-intensive neuroscience while having a firm footing in mathematics and theory, by having both a theoretical advisor, Eric Shea-Brown in Amath, and experimental advisors, Anitha Pasupathy and Wyeth Bair in Biological Structure. Being part of both communities allowed me to acquire various skills in computational neuroscience and got me deeply interested in cortical computation of visual information. Even after the UWIN fellow program, I had the opportunity to continue and expand my research with many scientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Science including my mentor there, Stefan Mihalas. This was exceptionally rewarding and exciting, as I could study cutting-edge experimental data using mathematical methods and experience large-scale team science. Furthermore, I was always encouraged to explore new fields and to be an independent researcher by my postdoc advisors. Throughout my postdoctoral training, I was given the unique opportunity to work at the intersection of theory and experimental data through active collaborations and to develop my own independent research projects. This was made possible through the excellent mentorship from the first-class theoretical & experimental neuroscientists, as well as the strong support from UW and Amath.

In addition to providing the exceptional research environment, the department was also extremely supportive of my career development. Both my advisors and the department provided so much help throughout my application process for career awards including the NIH K99 award as well as with my one-semester away to participate in a themed program at the Simons Institute for Theory of Computing in Berkeley. Outside of research, I had a chance to teach dynamical systems for two quarters which prepared me well for my current position in a mathematics department. In Amath, postdocs are encouraged to host Boeing seminar speakers, which allows the postdocs to interact and network with seminar speakers in different fields of applied mathematics.

Throughout my journey, Amath was always a welcoming home for me. This “sense of belonging” is something that I will fondly remember all the time. I appreciated how easily I could communicate and interact with the faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students in the department, and how the entire community was brought together through chats by the espresso machine, the annual dessert competitions, the annual holiday parties, departmental hiking trips, etc.  

Overall, my postdoc years at UW Amath provided so many opportunities to explore new ideas, form exciting collaborations, and grow into an independent researcher in an interdisciplinary field, in a very supportive and collegial environment. I am extremely grateful to all the members of Amath, UW, and the Allen Institute including my advisors, collaborators, as well as the staff, faculty, and students in Amath for helping me grow. I will always cherish my time at UW as the most enriching and exciting years of my career and life.

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