# PhD Student Q&A

Student experience 12 June 2018

This is a blog article about being a PhD student in the School of Mathematics at The University of Manchester. One of our PhD students, Elliot McKernon, did a Q&A with Cesare G. Ardito – a second year PhD student hailing from Italy who shares his office and research area – about PhDs, conferences, collaboration, and moving to the UK.

## What area of maths do you work in?

I work in modular representation theory or, more in general, algebra. Pure mathematics anyway!

## Can you give a brief description of your research?

Without defining things it is a bit hard…. Well, I’ll try! Groups appear in a lot of mathematics and physics areas: some examples are descriptions of symmetries and transformations. Often the important thing to understand is not the group by itself, but how it acts on other mathematical objects: these are called representations of the group. “Modular” representation theory deals with cases in which it is not possible to classify representations one by one; instead, we try to understand bigger objects called “blocks”. I am trying to classify all possibilities that can occur for blocks with a particular property. It has recently been proven that there is a finite number of those, and the objective is to find each one of them… this could be useful as a database of known cases, but also as a tool to spot some, more general, patterns.

## Why were you in California last month? How was it?

I was there for a workshop at MSRI. Many people from around the globe gathered for a week of talks and networking. It was very nice and interesting… also, it was my first time in the USA!

## What do people do at conferences?

Other than listening to talks, of course, the main thing is networking. You meet a lot of different people from various locations that work on things related to your research. It is exciting to meet them and share ideas.

## Is collaboration a big part of research?

It is very important. A lot of important papers have more than one author, and in general collaborating with someone helps a lot. Four eyes are better than two, eight are better than four.

## What aspect of studying a maths PhD in Manchester surprised you most?

Honestly, the mathematics department. I imagined a PhD had a lot of “loneliness” attached to it, but you don’t really feel it in the Alan Turing Building. There is always someone to talk to, and everyone is really nice! You often find yourself discussing ideas in the morning, or at lunch. Moreover, there are a lot of seminars and talks! To be honest, I am not even enjoying the social aspect as much as I could, and I expected the opposite situation.

Another thing that surprised me is how thin the line is between studying other people’s results and starting to have yours. At some point you realize that you have started to investigate new things, and it feels absolutely natural… again, I expected the opposite!

## What are your favourite and least favourite things about doing a maths PhD here?

I repeat myself, but definitely the mathematics department. I am really happy about this! The least favourite thing is, obviously, the weather.

## What aspects of British culture are most noticeably different to Italian?

Hmmm. Can I say they are much more similar than I would have thought? I am not really sure, I think it is easier to make friends here. Anyway, I have visited many European countries and I have to say that Europe is much more united, culturally, than it is generally thought. Of course, languages and food and habits can be different, but we have a lot in common and we share a lot of values and ideals about how society should be.

By Elliot McKernon

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