Joys of Discovery and Creation

Gillian Taylor, class of ’22, Chancellors’ Science Scholars, cohort 6, calls math an “exercise in personal creativity,” and battled imposter syndrome before finding the joy in research. She is a math major with a double-minor in computer science and religious studies, hailing from Concord, North Carolina.

Q: Where do you conduct your research?
A: I work with Dr. David Rose, a professor in the UNC Mathematics Department.

Q: What topics is that research group exploring?
A: The people in our group work on projects relating to subfields of math including but not necessarily limited to representation theory, category theory, and knot theory.

Q: What is your current research project?
A: I am currently collaborating on extending a certain method of construction for 3-manifold invariants to a specific type of web calculus. A web calculus can be thought of as a set of diagrams related to a mathematical category along with relations that can be used to do calculations with these diagrams.

Q: What was it like to get involved in research for the first time?
A: I was actually very nervous about getting involved in research, as I was under the impression that the only undergraduates that were able to succeed at math research were those who had started research-adjacent activities in high school, those that possessed a level of savant-ness inaccessible to 99.9% of the population, or even just the intersection of those two groups. It caused me to be quite anxious before my first few meetings with my advisor, fearing that at some point I would expose myself as some sort of imposter, someone who could perform well in the classroom but fell through when it came to more novel pursuits.

Q: How did you overcome those thoughts?
A: Despite the early anxieties, I soon realized that my fears were unfounded and my research work quickly became my favorite part of my week! Once you get to experience outside of the traditional classroom setting, you begin to see that math is just as much of an exercise in personal creativity as it is an exercise in the recitation of acquired knowledge, if not more so. Math exists and has the potential to exist in so many unexpected but still interconnected forms and coming up with ways for these forms to interact is a key component of new developments in the subject. Getting to do mathematics research has been an awesome opportunity to learn more about the vastness of the field while actually contributing to it, something that’s still really thrilling to think about, and I hope to continue to experience these joys of discovery and creation throughout the rest of my time in undergrad as well as in graduate school.