Undergraduate Complexity Research
Megumi Harada is Professor of Mathematics and Statistics and Canada Research Chair in Equivariant Symplectic and Algebraic Geometry at McMaster University (CA). She has won numerous prizes for her research and teaching, including the Ruth I. Michler Memorial Prize (Association for Women in Mathematics) and the Krieger–Nelson Prize (Canadian Mathematical Society). She is a Fields Institute Fellow. Harada was an Undergraduate Complexity Researcher (UCR) in 1995.
Briefly describe your primary research/academic work or other professional work.
My research expertise is in symplectic geometry and algebraic geometry. Symplectic geometry is a mathematical framework for classical physics, but it has also found applications in a wide range of other areas of pure and applied mathematics. Algebraic geometry is the study of systems of polynomial equations, and it, too, has deep connections to many areas of mathematics as well as the applied sciences, such as statistics and optimization.
How did your experience in SFI's undergraduate research program change your career path?
I would not be a research mathematician now if I had not met Professor Nancy Kopell from Boston University, a mathematical biologist, at the Santa Fe Institute during the summer that I was there as an undergraduate. Professor Kopell was visiting SFI to take part in one of your many interdisciplinary workshops, and I just happened to strike up a conversation with her. She was the first female mathematician I had ever met, and for the rest of the summer and for the full academic year that followed (which was my last year as an undergraduate), she kindly served both as a superb female role model as well as a generous and compassionate (informal) advisor. Professor Kopell encouraged me to apply to mathematics graduate school, insisting gently but firmly that there was a place for women in mathematics, and when I was accepted at multiple programs (including her own, at Boston University), she was the one who gently nudged me to attend University of California at Berkeley. I am forever grateful to her, and to SFI for providing the opportunity for us to meet.
Interview conducted August 2022.