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Rhiannon savage

Maths student, University of Oxford

 

And - Vice President of Events, OxFEST (Oxford Females in Engineering, Science and Technology); Founder, The 1985 Society

Don't underestimate the benefits of forming communities of females in your schools, universities and workplaces.

What do you do?

I’m currently studying for my undergraduate degree in Mathematics. I’m mainly focussing on Pure Mathematics so I’m currently studying courses in abstract algebra and topology.

 

I’m also working on research into subgroups of quantum groups and their crystal bases. I started this research with the help of a bursary from the London Mathematical Society. Quantum groups can be thought of as deformations of universal enveloping algebras of certain Lie algebras and crystal basis theory provides a combinatorial way of studying integrable modules over quantum groups. My research aims to use the tools of category theory to extend crystal basis theory to subgroups of quantum groups. This little taste of research has confirmed that I want to do a PhD. 

Another passion of mine is campaigning for gender equality, particularly in STEM. As Vice President of Events of OxFEST, I organise and run events with our sponsors to give women the opportunity to gain confidence in networking and to gain valuable skills which will help them in their future careers. I also run social events and events with academics which have helped to foster a strong community of female scientists at Oxford. I founded ‘the 1985 society’, which is my college’s feminist society. I’ve hosted a number of talks on topics as varied as the depiction of women’s bodies in Frankenstein and why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a feminist icon. 

Why did you choose this field?

Up until around Year 10 I was undecided about whether I preferred English or Maths, my two favourite subjects. I had a great Maths teacher for GCSE which really helped. I’d often doodle in Maths. Most people would have interpreted this as me being uninterested. She realised that I was just bored and would give me extra work or fun Maths problems to work on. I took part in a number of Maths challenges and read popular Maths books which introduced me to many areas beyond the syllabus. At this stage, the reason I loved Maths was because it challenged me. I began to realise during my A Levels, when I was first introduced to proper Mathematical rigour and proofs, that Maths is in fact extremely beautiful and a useful tool for making seemingly complex things simple. It was an easy decision to make to study Maths at University. 

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

"There's really no template for a woman in STEM."

I was very shy and introverted as a child and teenager, and I was always conscious of this. I feel that University has been extremely formative for me, mainly because of the projects that I’ve been involved in. The idea of speaking in front of a crowd of people would have terrified me a few years ago but now it seems to come naturally.

 

I think that finding a cause that I’m passionate about, combatting gender equality, has given me the confidence to speak out. Founding my college’s feminist society was a pretty nerve-wracking experience.  I thought that people would have this preconception of me as a Maths student and that they’d doubt my ability to speak about these issues.

Why do you love working in STEM?

The main reason I keep doing Maths is that it is addictive. Each day there is a new problem to solve and new avenues to explore, so I’m never bored. The more I study Maths the more I see how different concepts transfer between disciplines and it’s exciting to know that the things I’m researching might have applications in Theoretical Physics, for example. 

Best advice for the next generation

I’d say that the best advice to girls in STEM is to help each other. We're stronger together - we'll see real changes when we work together. Don’t underestimate the benefits of forming communities of females in your schools, universities and workplaces.

Role model 

My role model is Hannah Fry. She’s a Professor of Mathematics but has written books, done radio shows, and made TV shows to spread her love of Maths. I think that she’s doing an amazing job in making Maths more accessible, especially for young girls. I really wish that I’d had her as a role model when I was younger.