Meet a Mathematician

Ever wonder what a scientist does all day? Do they sit in a lab full of bubbling beakers? Are they locked away in a dark room full of reference books? Science Like Me answers those questions, dispels some myths, and more. Saura Naderi, an engineer with a passion for creativity, talks with scientists across UC San Diego about how they found their way into the world of research. Hear about moments from their childhood that sparked their love of science, how they spend a typical day, and what keeps them motivated to learn more and keep science moving forward.

In a recent episode, Naderi spoke with Alex Cloninger, PhD about his path to becoming a mathematician. His current work is in the area of geometric data analysis. His path towards a career in science was set in motion during a childhood trip to a planetarium with his parents. “That, I think, was the first aha moment. Not necessarily that I wanted to go into math, but that science was neat, and surprising, and that I didn’t understand how something happened, and I just wanted to figure it out.”

Cloninger views math as a skill everyone can master with the right tools. “I hate the phrase of someone not being a math person, because I really see learning math and getting to understand math is really just about practice, and about having people that are there to support you in that practice,” he says. He also disagrees with the idea that math is a solitary endeavor. “I think the most surprising thing is how fun and social research can be, and talking with colleagues can be – and that we all have this kind of common interest, maybe not in math, or in physics, or in a particular question, but in curiosity, right? …One of the things that I had no concept of before getting further into math, and even becoming a professor, was that the curiosity of a question can always be fun.”

To learn more about Cloninger’s research and day-to-day life in academia, watch Science Like Me: Meet a Mathematician. Interested in more scientific journeys? Check out the rest of the Science Like Me series.