An Interview with John Huerta


John Huerta is a recent mathematics PhD graduate from  the University of California, Riverside, where he worked with John Baez. Together Huerta and Baez won the 2013 Conant prize. A huge thank you to Dr. Huerta for answering some questions for us!

  • What are your research interests?
    I’m a mathematical physicist—I like mathematics related to or inspired by physics. Right now, I’m working on a kind of geometry called “higher gauge theory” that lots of evidence ties in with string theory. In essence, this involves replacing certain concepts from the theory of bundles with connection with analogous concepts more suited to the description of strings or higher dimensional objects as they move through space.
  • How did you feel when you found out you were a corecipient of the Conant prize?
    Surprised. Undeserving. Happy. There were many worthy contenders for the prize, and the list of previous winners reads like a list of luminaries. I still can’t quite believe I’m now one of those winners.The practical importance of the prize, for a mathematician like me who is just starting out, is to put me and my work in the spotlight, if only for a short time. Academia is very, very competitive, with far more good people than good jobs. When you’re young, anything that sets you apart can be helpful.
  • What professional organizations are you a part of?
    None, at the moment.
  • I believe you are currently working in Lisbon on research. Could you tell us a bit more about this opportunity?
    Sure! I’m here at the Instituto Superior Tecnico working with Professor Roger Picken, a mathematician who knows a lot of physics and loves to think about it, like me. I’ll be here for at least one year, hopefully longer. Lisbon is a really great city, and the department here is wonderfully supportive of mathematical physics.
  • What are your longterm goals in the math field?
    In my dreams, I would love to become a professor at a top notch research university where I can teach smart students, do lots of cool research, and advise PhDs.Of course, jobs like that are rare, and many of the candidates will be much more impressive than me. But I would be happy to live abroad, so I’ll be looking for a permanent or tenure-track job, pretty much anywhere that I would be able to have PhD students.
  • If you could give one piece of advice to beginning math PhD students, what would it be?
    Don’t be shy. Go to conferences, ask questions at talks and in lecture, talk to scary, famous people as well as those who are less so. Talking about mathematics is one of the most fun parts of this profession, and in doing it you will find people to work with and people who will hire you.And don’t forget to have fun, and cultivate a passion for mathematics. As bad as the economy is right now, there are plenty of jobs where you can make more money than being a mathematician. You’re doing this because you like it, so don’t forget to enjoy it.
  • Do you have any interesting facts about yourself you’d like to share?
    I don’t know if this is interesting, but it’s unusual: I was homeschooled by my parents until I was 15, when I went to high school.

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