Hard work adds up to success for maths graduate

Mathematics has been a lifelong passion for University of Queensland graduand Ivan Zelich.

“Ever since I was young, I always enjoyed playing around with numbers and I liked to find tricks to solve mathematical equations quickly,” he said.

“This hobby turned into a great passion of mine, especially when I started to read mathematical literature and compete in high school Olympiads.”

Ivan finishes his time at UQ as Valedictorian for the Faculty of Science, something he said was an unexpected honour.

“It certainly means a lot to be recognised for three years of hard work and it is a wonderful way to close off my undergraduate experience.

“I think mathematics has a certain reputation as being all about solving equations and therefore not that creative, but in my opinion it is probably one of the most creative pursuits out there since it has no boundaries on imagination, much like creative writing.

“Mathematics is also very versatile, in that the skills one must develop to be a mathematician, such as problem solving, are needed in many jobs outside of academia.”

Ivan used those skills to solve a simple equation - how to complete his undergraduate degree in two years rather than three.

He studied six subjects each semester ahead of a year of honours, achieving Dean’s Commendations for Academic Excellence in all six semesters, the James Cecil Stevenson Memorial Prize in 2017 and the Giuseppe Sciacca International Award for Mathematics along the way.

He was also a finalist for a Queensland Young Australian of the Year award and delivered a TED talk in Sydney , and another talk in Paris for “ L'Échappée Volée ” on a maths theorem he co-developed in his teens.

Despite the accolades, Ivan said it wasn’t easy.

I’m not totally sure how I managed to pull this off while maintaining grades I was happy with,” he said.

“All of the awards I was fortunate enough to receive didn’t come without hard work.”

Keeping busy was a theme for his UQ years, as he also organised a series of seminars outside the curriculum for other maths students, as well as finding time for other pursuits.

“I’ve always enjoyed doing extracurricular things such as sport and playing the piano,” he said.

“These activities at the very least help relax my mind after an intense period of studying.”

He may have finished his degree but is not yet done with campus life.

“I want to become a professor in mathematics and do some high-quality research.

“I’ve had interests in other areas of science such as neuroscience, so I am always on the lookout for potentially applying high-end mathematics to solve problems in other areas of STEM.

“I was fortunate enough to be accepted into Cambridge for the MASt program in pure mathematics as part of the Mathematical Tripos.

“After that I plan to undertake a PhD in pure mathematics at Oxford.”

And perhaps change the world along the way.

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