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News > Alumni Achievements > 2013 Dux returns to inspire a future in Mathematics and Science

2013 Dux returns to inspire a future in Mathematics and Science

Tim Roberts sharing his PhD research with our students.
Tim Roberts sharing his PhD research with our students.

A decade after graduating as Dux of the Class of 2013, alumnus Tim Roberts was keen to catch up with Head of Mathematics Cathy Killin during his return visit to Australia. 

After dropping her a line to say he would be in town in June, their catch-up quickly became a chance to share his impressive academic journey with Extension Maths students, who were enthralled by his current Doctoral research at Brown University in the USA. 

“I did like my time here, so I’m happy to give back a bit,” reflected Tim, who is completing his PhD in Applied Mathematics.  

In Sydney on a break from his studies - and catching up with family and friends after a COVID-enforced absence of some years - Tim will return to his Ivy League university to complete the fifth year of his PhD. 

He summarises his area of interest as the study of patterns in space and time, which has specific real-world applications to such matters as tachycardia in heart attack patients. 

“Electrochemical processes can be seen as patterns,” explained Tim, “so this is a way of approaching problems with heart rhythms.” 

He presented a summary of his research to students in Years 10-12, who were eager to ask questions about their own future study options and potential career paths. 

Since leaving school, Tim has completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney and graduated with First Class Honours.  

He was awarded the University Medal and the Joye Prize for Mathematics, which is given to the Honours student with the highest mark in the School of Mathematics and Statistics.  

He is studying at Brown University on a full academic scholarship. 

His advice to students is to try to work out what they are passionate about, and what they are good at, then make a plan to pursue it. 

“If you don’t get the mark you need, there are always other pathways,” he pointed out, suggesting that students build relationships with lecturers and professors to open doors to less obvious opportunities. 

He also urged students to look at Maths and Science as creative subjects, something for which he thinks they do not get enough credit, especially in the early stages of study. He likened the increasing creative opportunities in these fields to gaining the building blocks of language. 

“At school, you’re just learning the grammar, but at university you learn to turn that into stories,” Tim explained. 

Cathy Killin was delighted with how Tim’s visit was received. 

“When I asked him to come I was thinking how inspirational it would be for the seniors to see what you can achieve with mathematics,” she said, “but the message he gave was much more powerful than I envisaged – he challenged them to make a decision about what they wanted in their future, and to never give up, even if they don’t get into what they want straight away.” 

Speaking to students afterwards, she was moved to hear how motivated they had been by his words. 

“Some of them said, ‘He is who I want to be. That’s what I want to do with my life!’” Cathy relayed. 

Both Tim and Cathy expressed a wish to arrange another visit the next time he is in Australia, to inspire another group of young mathematicians. 

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