A Passion for Mathematics: Career Feature on Nadia Maryukova

Author:  Anastasiya Maryukova

Institution:  University of Toronto

“A youth who had begun to read geometry with Euclid, when he had learnt the first proposition, inquired, "What do I get by learning these things?" So Euclid called a slave and said "Give him threepence, since he must make a gain out of what he learns."  - Euclid

There is no doubt as to the influence that university professors have in nurturing the minds of undergraduate and graduate students. A university professor typically has a PhD completed in their chosen area of study and continuously contributes to the development of that area through academic research. Nadezda (Nadia) Maryukova, a former mathematics professor at the Bryansk State University for over twenty years and a present-day private tutor, believes that a deep interest and passion for the subject are the beginning requirements to become a professor.

“My love for math has always encouraged me to solve equations and mathematical puzzles daily. I prefer to do in the morning to wake up my brain. It has become my routine,” Maryukova says.

Contributing to the education of young minds is one of the building blocks of the profession. Conducting research is another as it fosters a myriad of responsibilities. They include keeping up to date with recent developments in mathematical research, participating in professional conferences, and publishing papers. Maryukova’s love for research is a driving force behind her teaching career.

“Consider an eagle about to take off. He demonstratively raises his wings and proudly flies into the sky. Research and teaching are two wings, carrying a successful professor’s career. A professor solely focused on research can still efficiently communicate his knowledge to his students, but a great professor supplements his research with passion for teaching.”

Research primarily entails keeping up to date with new themes and developments in the discipline. This implies reading pertinent scholarship and attending professional seminars. Networking and professional affiliations are powerful tools in keeping updated with current research. Mathematical scholarship is broad, but its main areas encompass algebra, geometry and applied mathematics.

“Math is a discipline that always changes; it always keeps you on your toes. It really pays to know what is going on. I find it rewarding.”

Given the broad range of students that find themselves present in math courses, Maryukova always tries to make her courses accessible and enjoyable. She attributes her success in the classroom to her combined knowledge and passion for mathematics.

“Every year, I get students with different backgrounds in math and different levels of enthusiasm. It is my job to show them that math can be interesting and exciting. I strive to communicate my love for the subject and make it as contagious as possible.”

The life of a university professor is not without its hardships, however.  Foremost, being a university professor requires a great deal of commitment and time. Unlike any other job that typically runs from 9 to 5, the life of a university professor is less flexible and more demanding.

“Being a professor, especially in such a complex discipline like math, can feel overwhelming. You really have to put in long hours and maintain a relationship with fellow researchers, colleagues and students,” Maryukova says.

Maryukova believes that an early acquaintance with a subject can foster a lifelong interest. She gained a keen interest in math in elementary school, participating in after-school activities related to math.

“It was the highlight of my day,” she confesses.  

As a youth, after reading an article which contradicted what she studied in class, Maryukova set out to investigate the problem further. It was not long before she started reading mathematical journals in her spare time, and this soon snowballed into a lifelong passion for mathematics.

“While my peers were going to the movies, I was toiling away in my room, reading math news and writing out equations on the board,” Maryukova continues, with a smile.

Maryukova soon went on to pursue mathematics at Moscow State Pedagogical University, where met her soon-to-be PhD supervisor Rosenfeld whose ground-breaking book, Geometry of Lie Groups, inspired her to take his classes. With his guidance, she studied a broad range of non-Euclidean geometries.

“He was a great mentor who fueled my love for the subject and inspired me to think critically and creatively. His book appealed to me through its presentation of geometry as something poetic, and I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one who thought this way,”

The book starts with a compelling quote: “numerous interpretations of various spaces different from our usual space allow us, like stereoscopic vision, to see many traits of these spaces absent in the usual space.” Maryukova adds. “In a very subtle way, we are led to think of geometry as something greater than us.”

To this day, Maryukova cites Rosenfeld’s book in her opening lectures to draw her students in and prepare them for a rewarding journey. She got into teaching shortly after defending her dissertation, becoming an associate professor.

“I knew I wanted to teach because I always had that inclination in me. It was like second nature. I still vividly remember proudly walking around my equation board in my room with a marker in my hand, explaining complex math concepts to an imaginary audience. This routine helped me learn and gave me great satisfaction.”

To reference Euclid once more, pursuing math is in itself its own reward. For those interested in a career as a mathematics professor, Maryukova recommends to prepare for a lifelong dedication. “Ask yourself: am I ready to devote my whole life to math research and teaching? For me, the answer was positive, and it came speedily. If you are equally invested and eager, then your life will be exciting and rewarding.”