Sophia Elia,
BMS Phase II Student,
BMS Qualifying Exam, 
Msc FU Berlin, 
BA UC Berkeley, California

It is currently my fifth year at the BMS. I arrived in 2016 for Phase I (Master's), and I am now a finishing Phase II (PhD) student. I grew up in the United States, and did my undergraduate at UC Berkeley in California. I knew that I wanted to go to Europe for my PhD for the challenge and opportunity it presented for personal growth. One of my professors pointed me towards the BMS because it is fairly close to the American style in graduate education. Namely, you can enter with a Bachelor's degree and be on track to obtain your PhD. This was key for me because I wanted more time to take courses before deciding on an advisor and what type of math to focus on. There is still a hurdle in the transition from Phase I to Phase II. One has to find an advisor, pass a qualifying exam, and secure funding. It is difficult but not incomparable to the process of finding an advisor and passing a qualifying exam at a US institution. As much as possible, the BMS tries to help you and support you through this transition, although it still doesn't work out for everyone.

During Phase I, I took courses at all three of the universities, which was fun because it allowed me to experience and get to know different parts of the city and the different professors and mathematics departments. There were often a few BMS students in each course, and we formed a natural team. In Germany, you submit homework assignments in pairs, so I always had friends from the BMS to work and study with.

If you are currently browsing the BMS website, you are hopefully getting a good idea of how truly international the students of the BMS are. I can't overstate how valuable this is. If you come to the BMS, you will certainly leave with friends all over the world: friends, who come from extremely different walks of life from your own and give you new perspectives on the world and tie you to it. Your graduate education is probably the last time that you will be surrounded by your peers every day, learning, and at the BMS this peer group will greatly enrich your life and turn you into a researcher with a global perspective - at least that's how I feel. Throughout my studies, within the students of the BMS and especially within my work group, there has been a good gender balance. This has helped me to feel comfortable. I have found both communities to be vibrant and accepting.

The other thing I love about the BMS is the chance to learn German. A lot of the students who come to the BMS already speak more than one language, and BMS students choose to engage with German at different levels and at different points within their studies according to personal preference. I think it is a wonderful privilege to have this choice and to be able to learn German. Hitting the point where you become conversational within the scope of daily activities is extremely exciting. It opens up another culture with its own humor and intricacies.

Even though I didn't know what kind of math I would end up doing, the BMS made a good guess and assigned me a Phase I mentor from the group I would end up joining. Mathematically, Berlin ended up being the perfect place for me. I don't think there is anywhere in the world I would've rather done my PhD. I hope that if you decide to come to the BMS, or if you are already a member, that it is equally rewarding for you.

Published in July 2021