Valerie Gilchrist

Valerie Gilchrist

Masters Student at the University of Toronto

Why did you choose UTSC?

​I had originally chosen U of T because of its high ranking and I found living in Toronto very appealing. I chose Scarborough specifically for its co-op program. I actually ended up dropping out of the co-op program because I decided I wanted to take more of a pure math approach. I still stayed at the scarborough campus because of the small classes (which meant I could build strong relationships with my profs and peers) and the TA opportunities.

What was your program?

​Math (Comprehensive stream)

How was your experience as a woman in CMS?

It was definitely noticeable that men were the majority in my program--and in CMS in general--but I've never been a shy person in the classroom. Perhaps because of how much I participated, I always felt respected by my peers. I found it easy to engage in academic discussions and have my voice heard, the hardest part was probably having the courage to interject in the first place. It sometimes did feel like I had to prove myself, and my mathematical prowess, before establishing myself as respectable, but it never took too long to do.

What did you learn from this experience?

It taught me that having confidence in your own abilities (and fighting off any imposter syndrome) is extremely important to professional development and networking. Being able to join a conversation, and perhaps have to prove your level of knowledge, is very important to developing relationships which are imperative in mathematics.

What’s some advice you would give to first year you?

Go to office hours!!!! Office hours--either for the prof or TA--are very important for learning the material, but also for developing communication skills. Being able to communicate math is not always easy, and you can only learn by doing, so attending office hours is a great way to verbalize questions and also listen to other people's questions. (Office hours also ended up being a great place to meet other people in my classes!)

What’s some advice you would give to women thinking about pursuing a career in CMS?

Just try it! If you're concerned that you won't succeed or like the material, then just start by taking the core courses. Even if you decide to switch, the skills you learn will likely be useful to you in your future career path. If you're concerned about being a minority or not being taken seriously, then I would suggest really focusing on how you can improve your outward confidence. If you show visible comfort with the material, it makes it that much harder for someone to disregard you. Also making friends in your classes goes a long way in this regard!

What’s something you’d like to see different in this industry?

I would love to see representation mirroring our society. Walking around in Toronto you see different ethnicities, religious affiliations, genders, sexualities, etc., so it would be nice to see the same in the classroom.

What are you doing now (CMS related)?

This year I will be starting my Masters at the University of Waterloo, researching an area of post-quantum cryptography.

What’s something you’re proud of accomplishing through CMS?

I'm very proud of my teaching experience. Coming out of undergrad I have three years of experience as a TA. I've taught hundreds of students in a range of courses (from first year calc to fourth year GR). I've learned so much from my students about teaching as a profession but also about math. Being able to see math through different perspectives has made me a far better mathematician.

What has helped you the most while pursuing a degree at UTSC?

My support system! I would email my profs at any hour when I got stuck on a problem, chat with my roommates after a stressful day, call up my parents for an update on what's going on at home, or go out for coffee with a pal at the end of the week. All of these things were what kept me going and would allow me to continually work at my degree. Having a balance between work and personal life, and knowing when to ask for what were vital to the entire process.