Postdoc at University Regensburg,
Visiting researcher at Keio University

Veronika Ertl

How mathematics helped me to get to know many parts of our colorful world (Part 2)

This is how I ended up at the University of Utah. I didn’t know anything about Salt Lake City and when I first told my friends that I would go there, they said: “You will end up being the seventh wife of a Mormon!” It is true that Utah is often called the “Mormon state”. But there is so much more to it.

Moving there was the second big culture shock in my life. Although I had a lot of international friends before, I didn’t imagine that life in the US was so different from life in Europe. It is also different to think about how perspective changes: when I moved to Munich I was “the little girl from the village”, when I moved to Paris I was “from Germany”, in Utah I was “from Europe”. People at the university were very welcoming. It felt weird to call everyone, professors and staff, by their first name!

In the doctoral program were many international students and it was a lot of fun to learn about the different cultures and countries they came from. Food was always an important topic of conversation: especially when we were homesick, remembering our favorite food from our home helped. Sometimes we tried to get the ingredients for some of these foods and cooked together.

The US is a country of many contrasts. Poverty and extreme richness coexist. Some of the most amazing nature and scenery as well as some of the dirtiest cities. Going to math conferences and workshops allowed me to get to know different corners of the country. One of the lecturers at a workshop at the IAS in Princeton for girls in number theory once told me that she loved such workshops and conferences because they are like a vacation where you get to do your favorite pastime, namely math! She had a lot of interesting stories to tell and we young aspiring mathematicians couldn’t hear enough of them.

Talking to different mathematicians and students at such conferences was very helpful and encouraging. It helps to find perspective in what one is doing. Sometimes one has self-doubts but then one learns that everyone else does as well.

Of course, life as a doctoral student in a foreign country was not always easy. While our American friends could see their families regularly, we usually only could go home once a year, or even less often depending on where we were from. It was especially hard when you got stuck in a problem, which of course happens in math. But there was always someone to cheer you up. When I had a really hard time, I would ask my Bosnian friend who was a professor in the math department, if I could walk her dogs. The dogs would listen to my worries and life was already a little brighter.

My advisor had a strong influence on me. I will always be grateful for her advice and the many discussion we had, not only about math, but also about life. It is always good when we meet on conferences! She always traveled a lot, and so I had also the chance to travel as her student on occasions where I got to join her for example at the Fields Institute in Toronto, Canada, or at a conference for Women in Number in Banff, Canada.

When she moved to Lyon, France, during my third year I joined her for one semester. It was good to be back in this country.

When I started my doctorate in Utah, I couldn’t imagine how I would ever be able to write a thesis. But somehow it happened and eventually, the day of my defense came. I already had a postdoc position in Regensburg, Germany, where I would start just a few weeks later.

After all my international experiences it wasn’t so easy to go back to my country. I didn’t feel German anymore. When I started my journey from my village, I Hadn’t realized that I had in fact many preconceptions. I discovered them when I got to see different points of view from many people who came from somewhere else. Such experiences change you and show you that there are so many valid perspectives. And that there is so much out there to learn.

Going back to Germany for my first postdoc position gave me the opportunity to see my own country in a new light. Even here was so much to learn. And not last new mathematics! I was very lucky that the University of Regensburg allowed me to attend many conferences and workshops throughout Europe. A very memorable trip was to the home country of my advisor, Poland: I attended a conference in Warsaw and she showed me around the beautiful city.

Now I am very excited to spend the upcoming year in Japan. The first three months that I spent there were full of excitement and new impressions. It was the first time for me to come to an Asian country. Although I expected it to be very different from everything I had known before, the same as for many of my trips applied: one doesn’t know how a place is before one hasn’t seen it. There were so many things that I couldn’t have imagined in my dreams, and I am sure there will be many more! And I am thankful for the people there who welcomed me with open arms and helped me to overcome many obstacles!


*The information in this article is as of the time it was written, and may have changed since.


Postdoc at University Regensburg,
Visiting researcher at Keio University
Veronika Ertl
Nickname: Vroni (pronunciation: Froni or フロニ)
Mathematical interest: arithmetic geometry
Outside mathematics: I like artistic gymnastics, nature and animals, especially dogs.

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