My Experience as a AMATH Master's Student

Submitted by Tony I Garcia on

By Robert Hollman

When I arrived at the University of Washington in August of 2022, I felt that the skills I was bringing into the program fell woefully short of the skills required to succeed. My undergraduate experience had left me disillusioned about my place in academia – while my love of math felt simple, college required navigating a plethora of new experiences with little social support to guide my path. I chose my undergraduate major by accident and dropped out of my education minor after a professor claimed my frequent participation in class was evidence of an ego incompatible with being an educator (a deeply felt criticism that shook my resolve to become a teacher). Despite these painful experiences, my math classes remained easy. I was able to comfortably maintain my GPA and struggled to stay engaged with classes that felt overly reminiscent of high school. 

After joining the University of Washington’s Department of Applied Mathematics as a graduate student, however, the one thing that had always felt easy, math, became extremely difficult. Only this time, I found a community determined to help me succeed. UW is a great institution. It provided me with the help that I needed to improve myself and experience math the way I wanted. I was surrounded by people whose passion for mathematics mirrored my own and who were willing to help, even when I struggled. My participation was appreciated rather than condemned. I finally understood what it meant to have a learning community and I achieved far more than I ever thought myself capable of.

Even though I graduated from UW and have begun a career in education, I still often feel imposter syndrome as a result of my undergraduate experience. Immersing myself in the applied mathematics program at UW, however, went far in repairing how I see myself as a student, educator, and person. I know this program can help you achieve greater academic feats than you may expect of yourself as well as offer a community that will provide the social support I now recognize as essential to the educational process. 

And now, a few tips for success: Find friends! I felt underprepared entering the program, but the people at UW were invaluable resources for knowledge and motivation. The people in the department care about you and are willing to go out of their way to see you succeed. To help take advantage of this community, I strongly recommend joining in on department activities like the ice cream socials and hikes. You will meet people who share your interests and will push you to be a better student and mathematician. 

I also recommend that you take Math Ecology with Mark Kot. Mark will resharpen all of your math skills while you go through the course material which is tremendous if you feel rusty in any particular part of math. Avoid Fluid Dynamics in your first year, Dale is an excellent professor and his material is invaluable and compelling, however, this class requires the sharpest math skills you’ve got and will be rough without some graduate school experience backing you up. My last piece of advice is to talk to your professors. Developing a rapport with your professors gives them an idea of who you are and makes them more invested in your success. This was exceedingly valuable to me when I needed to ask for help as it made approaching my professors much easier. 

Finally, sometimes all it takes is a person who believes in you, so let me say, you’ve got this. Welcome to the department!

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