LSU Mathematics graduate student Kent Vashaw has accepted a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, which places him at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Fall 2021. He will be mentored by Dr. Pavel Etingof in the MIT Department of Mathematics, performing research in representation theory.
Vashaw’s interest in mathematics began in his undergraduate studies, where he appreciated that in math “…one could work out the answer to a question and see that it was true as opposed to simply memorizing material and accepting it as a fact.” While completing his Master in Mathematics, Kent observed the close ties of researchers within the mathematics community, and this inspired him to build a place in mathematics research for himself. His interests led him to pursue a Ph.D. at LSU in the Department of Mathematics based on the recommendations of his advisors and colleagues.
As Vashaw put it, “I went to them for a lot of advice about where I should apply for Ph.D. programs, and they said the Louisiana State University Department of Mathematics is a place where people are coming out really strong in advanced mathematics research.” Much of his research thus far has involved doing noncommutative analogs of constructions from a commutative setting. Dr. Milen Yakimov of LSU Mathematics and Kent Vashaw have published a paper together on categorification, and collaborated with Dr. Daniel Nakano of the University of Georgia with several papers on tensor triangular geometry. Dr. Nakano observed Kent deliver a talk at a mathematical conference and from his impression from seeing Kent present his research, Dr. Nakano was inspired to collaborate with Kent. Kent credits Dr. Yakimov, who has supervised his Ph.D. thesis, with providing early on an open and motivating experience as well as good guidance in academics and mathematics research.
Notably, while at LSU, Kent was recognized with the 2020 Pasquale Porcelli Award for Graduate Research Excellence, and an Arthur K. Barton Superior Graduate Student Scholarship in Mathematics.
Vashaw’s first memory and one of his favorite stories at LSU is about a time shortly after arriving to Baton Rouge near the LSU Lakes. Experiencing a delay while driving, he observed a helpful commuter casually hop out of their vehicle and proceed to carry an alligator away from the road, permitting traffic to flow. “That was my introduction to Louisiana,” Vashaw added.
While the pandemic has rearranged many plans, Kent advises students interested in pursuing a mathematics education to attend as many conferences as possible online, and to build relationships within the mathematics community to take advantage of the opportunity to expose yourself to many fields of mathematics. These relationships have helped Vashaw to develop his interests and build on his research. Vashaw says he is motivated by seeing the scientific community working together to advance our collective understanding. “It’s really inspiring to go to conferences and see people working together, seeing what other people are doing, and having relationships where you can talk about what things we would like to do as a community,” Vashaw said, “I want to help contribute to this.”
At MIT, Kent will be mentored by Dr. Etingof, who is one of the leading specialists on representation theory, tensor categories, and mathematical physics.
When asked what he is looking forward to with his new role, Vashaw said he is most excited to meet new people who may be experts in his area of research, and to broaden his understanding of research fields and topics.
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