I chose the ALGANT programme because I wanted to study abroad. I also considered going to Paris for a year as a great opportunity academically. The ALGANT programme had a great impact on my career. I learned that mathematics is done differently in different places, and it helped me find my place in the mathematical community much easier. The ALGANT programme provides any enthusiastic student with a firm understanding of pure mathematics, and is a perfect place to start a career. After completing the ALGANT programme it is also easier to find PhD positions elsewhere. My advice to people considering the ALGANT programme would be to choose the ALGANT programme if they are interested in pursuing a career in pure mathematics, studying abroad, and meeting different people doing mathematics.
After I graduated from Wuhan University 2005, I went to Beijing to start a master-phd program in Chinese Academy of Sciences under the supervision of Prof. Xu Fei. At that time, I did not plan to study in a foreign country. I had not even heard of the world-famous University Paris-sud. Prof. Ullmo from Paris-sud was visiting Tsinghua University in Beijing and he gave a course on modular forms and organized a student seminar on Shimura varieties. Prof. Xu encouraged me to attend the course and give a talk in the student seminar. After that semester, I decided to have a try to begin a life abroad and to see how a top university is like. Prof. Ullmo encouraged me to apply the ALGANT program. I think that ALGANT was much less selective than nowadays, there were not that many applicants. Generally speaking, to get a scholarship abroad, one needs either complete the TOEFL and GRE exams for the US or apply a program in a certain non-English-speaking European country. I did not want to spend too much time to prepare for the English tests but save my time to study math. That was the main reason why I was not planning to go abroad but when suddenly ALGANT came to me I changed my mind to study abroad. I had no expectations before I went to Europe, such a program is far beyond my imagination. However, I did take a French course after my decision. I believed that French will open to me a new window of the world, and it does. ALGANT has impacted me quite a lot on my career and my life. As what most of us had done, after ALGANT, I began my Phd thesis. In Paris, I had many choices for a PhD. Actually, during the second year of ALGANT, I was allowed to choose any second year master courses in any universities in the Paris region. I was also allowed to work with any professor in Paris to complete a master’s thesis. I had the freedom to learn things in which I was interested. In most of the cases, I can find related courses given by researchers working in that domain. Finally, I stayed still in Paris-sud to begin a PhD thesis under the supervision of Prof. David Harari. That period of four or five years in Paris-sud was quite a hard time as a student. I had never thought that math is that difficult and I had never thought that my colleagues can be that excellent. I think it was what a top university meant to me at that time. I had learnt a lot not only from my professors but also from my colleagues. Paris has the best surroundings to learn math. After those years in Paris-sud, immediately after the defense of my thesis I got a permanent position in University Paris 7. With such a beginning of my career, I was quite fortunate. My life has also changed a lot. When I was an undergraduate, I did not travel very often. I had not thought about that I should travel around China. I am lucky that I can live in Paris for several years when I am young. During weekends, I visited museums in Paris to see the best creations of human civilization. Europe is totally a new world for me. I won’t say explicitly, but I cannot count how many times I had culture shocks. The way people think or the way how things work is sometimes absolutely completely different from the Chinese way. During the master years, I started to travel around Europe and I have been to about 30 European countries now. After I had saved some more money, I also travelled to middle- east, to Latin America and the like. Travel has opened my eyes, I can see a plentiful world that I had never imagined. Though this is certainly a by-product, I appreciate a lot this change that ALGANT has brought to me. I won’t say that ALGANT fits for everybody. But I hope that my experiences can help you to know a little more about the ALGANT program.
When I chose ALGANT, I was thrilled with the opportunity to study in an international academic milieu. My hopes were completely fulfilled; but, more, I was able to learn new ways of facing problems and finding solution strategies. This was really useful in my working life; even if I do not apply the contents I studied during the ALGANT courses directly, the ways of facing and solving problems are something that I use everyday in my work. I think that the strenghth of the ALGANT courses is that they give you instruments to interpret reality and to face different kinds of problems: that is the reason why, when the moment to choose his/her future career path comes, an ALGANT student really has the possibility to apply for whatever job he or she wants.
Coming from the United States, I initially chose to attend the ALGANT Master primarily because it was an opportunity to study abroad in two great European cities, Milan and Paris. During the program, I developed great appreciation for the mathematical opportunities, and, by the end of my studies in Paris, I genuinely felt at home mathematically. Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to extend my ALGANT experience by working towards a doctorate (in Leiden and Paris), the choice was easy. I had the benefit of working with two advisors specializing in different areas of number theory, which certainly helped expand my mathematical arsenal. My advice to undergraduates considering ALGANT is to be prepared for a very rigorous and challenging math program, and to not underestimate the personal benefits of being exposed to new cultures and ways of life. In short, you might have to invest a lot of energy both in your career and in your personal life, but the rewards make the investment worthwhile.
I chose to apply to the ALGANT master because I felt that it was an unique occasion to approach research in Mathematics. It turned out to be a good choice for two reasons. First of all, the choice of courses in algebraic geometry in Padova was somewhat limited, and doing my second year of Master abroad allowed me to deepen my knowledge of fundamental results, which I use now very often in my research. Moreover, spending my second year abroad widened my perspectives on different ways of doing research. In fact, even though the mathematical community is very connected, research in mathematics is pursued in a different way from country to country, and there are differences even among single universities. During my second year of Master, I experienced for the first time how diversity can be fundamental in defining one’s own approach to mathematics. It is of course possible to have a similar experience through a “regular” Erasmus project, but I personally think that being an ALGANT has been a plus: we had tutors we could talk to and we had to attend a common core program that helped us to stay on track.
I have surely acquired different skills during the completion of my program: I learned new languages, basics of programming, and other transferable skills (whatever it means). But, most importantly for me, ALGANT totally changed my viewpoint on mathematics and on my possibilities as a mathematician. My advice to anybody considering to apply for the program, is to do it without hesitation. My two cents for someone that already is in the program and is considering different career paths is to talk as much as possible to people that have been in the same situation, in order to hear their stories and have a closer perspective on the consequences of the choices you’re about to make. I am sure that most ALGANT alumni would be happy to help.