Mark Curran, 
BMS Phase II student, 
Qualifying Exam BMS, MSc Freie Universität Berlin, 
BSc (Honours) Monash University Clayton

I first heard of the BMS through an offhand comment of a PhD student participating in a conference at Monash University, where I was an undergraduate at the time. The only information I had to go on was that there existed a program in Berlin, offered in English for mathematics students interested in obtaining a PhD. A quick google search led me to the BMS website.

Though I was always interested in mathematics, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school after an exchange year at Berkeley. I found that a year or two spent building a foundation of mathematical knowledge, largely through coursework and seminars, was hugely beneficial to the student’s ability to handle research level material. Moreover it led the students to a better informed decision about their future specialization. This all happened in a very collegiate atmosphere that served not only as a social outlet, but the intense of amounts of collaboration further enhanced the learning process.

This experience led me to apply to several colleges in the United States and Canada, but having found parallels in  the program offered by the BMS, I applied there as well. I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to the BMS days, where I had a very positive introduction to the mathematical community in Berlin and the wonderfully diverse cultural landscape of the city. I accepted an offer of a Phase I scholarship and began studying in Berlin in October 2012.

My first few months in Berlin were rocky and I was so grateful for how helpful the BMS proved to be. I was allocated a buddy who put me in contact with the dormitory I ended up living in for my first year in Germany, and he also welcomed me into a German language group he organized. The BMS office helped translating documents and were experts at navigating the various bureaucracies. There were also a number of fun social events.

I followed the BMS recommendations on how to mix basic and advanced courses, and participated in a few seminars too. Though I wanted to do some form of analysis or differential geometry, I was unsure exactly what sorts of problems researchers work on. Much to my surprise, my eventual field of specialization sort of fell into my lap. I did a sequence of courses on differential equations, enthusiastically participated and was asked by the professor if I was interested in research in the field. I wrote a masters thesis, applied for external PhD funding and am currently working on my dissertation. So my advice is to ask as many questions as possible!

The BMS family has remained an important part of my mathematical life, even though I am now embedded into another research organization. The networking opportunities, travel funding and soft skill seminars are still immensely useful. And of course many of those students who joined the BMS with me have remained very good friends. I am very happy indeed that I chose to pursue my academic career in Berlin.

published in March 2015