Math or physics, Mr. van der Meer?

February 2, 2022

Graduate award winner of the Robert Bosch GmbH for outstanding M.Sc. degree at the Department of Mathematics Portraits at the Department of Mathematics at the University of Stuttgart

I have learned that "yes" is the correct answer to "or" questions. By the way, you are welcome to call yourself by your first name, I do that too.

Standard question first: Why did you study math?

In the end, it was kind of a lucky coincidence that I was ill-informed. I had planned a semester abroad at HKUST in Hong Kong in the 7th semester, but the exchange program of the university was only for bachelor students and for the semesters before I had missed the application phase. Enrolling in the math program was initially a plan to remain an undergraduate student in the 7th semester after completing my bachelor's thesis.

That doesn't answer the question... Why math?

I think everyone who has strayed onto this site is fascinated by mathematics in one way or another. In the portrait texts themselves, there are excellent examples of how mathematics can spark long-lasting enthusiasm. The bachelor's and also master's programs were opportunities for me to dive deeper into mathematics. Ironically, this allowed me to follow up on the very event that had originally driven me into physics. When I was 13, I was given Hawking's "Short History of Time" on a student exchange in China, which of course I didn't understand at all (I don't know Chinese). Honestly, I never thought at the time that I could begin to understand what was really going on. At some point while studying ahead, however, I came across relativity (in physics) and geometry (in math) and, in particular, the thermodynamics of black holes. During a seminar and then my master thesis with Dr. Degeratu I had the opportunity to look much deeper into my "hobby" subject of physics.

And what comes after the master thesis? What are you actually doing now? 

Writing a portrait text... I am doing my PhD at the II Institute f ̈ur Theoretical Physics in the area of stochastic thermodynamics. Due to my mathematically inclined background, I sometimes have a different perspective than my colleagues, which has definitely led (and hopefully will lead) to fruitful discussions and results. For example, in an undergraduate lecture on mathematical statistics, I came across the Fisher information, which eventually developed into the topic of my master's thesis in physics. I am still researching on a proof technique for thermodynamic relations based on it.

Away from you to others: What advice do you have for students and prospective students?

There is more to studying than just lectures, even if physicists are not known to be invited to parties. I can only recommend a semester abroad, summer academies or the like, be it to find out if there are intersections between the games of the "Games Club" of HKUST and the game closet of the math department (Yes - Avalon) or to talk to people who might be professionally intimidating but are still people. For example, studying math and physics sounds like it would be double the effort, but a great deal of overlap can actually be double credited. I have always been able to turn to people at the university since the first semester who had advice for me or explained how not only math and physics but also studying and university works. This pleasant environment was one of the reasons for me to stay here in Stuttgart for my master's and doctorate.

Can you formulate that as a take-home message?

The most important thing is passion for studying. I had the luxury of having that from the very beginning, and I hope you don't let the Corona semesters take that away from you!

Thanks for the monologue!

On that note, "The good cop bad cop routine is working perfectly! - You know, normally two different cops do that..." - The Pink Panther (2006)

Jann van der Meer M.Sc.
Graduatea award winner of th Robert Bosch GmbH for outstanding M.Sc. degree in the Department of Mathematics

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