Anne Trostle '09 Speaks about Undergraduate Research

Getting started in mathematical research

For my senior year at F&M, I decided to do a two-semester independent study with Professor Feldman. The subject was cryptography, and although I had no previous knowledge in the topic aside from unscrambling word puzzles, I was excited to start the project. I was also interested in the subject because of its useful application in so many areas of today’s hi-tech society. After all, cryptography is a mathematical science involving the study of how to keep and transfer data securely. Starting with this basic definition, I began learning about the principles of modern cryptography. With the encouragement of Professor Feldman, it wasn’t long before I was reading theoretical proofs of definitions such as perfectly secret encryption and eventually studying the application of group rings in algebraic coding theory.

What I did in my research experience

Doing research is an experience that I highly recommend for students. Fortunately, F&M makes this opportunity very accessible, whether by doing a summer Hackman scholarship or an independent study. For me, I had actually started doing research in the chemistry department as early as my first year at F&M. I quickly learned that research in a subject is very different from taking classes, and so I was eager to see this side of mathematics as well. Independent research gives you the freedom to explore new topics and study your own project while having the guidance from working one-on-one with a professor. This type of work is challenging because results hardly ever come as planned or hoped, but that’s what makes it interesting and rewarding when you do finally see results.

What I'm doing now

Although I have not continued doing research in cryptography, my independent study was one of the most valuable experiences.  Since graduating from F&M, I have worked in the field of mathematics in various roles. I am currently working as a pricing rate analyst for an electric power company. Prior to this position, I had begun my career as a pricing actuary in the insurance industry and then later worked as a research aide at a university, studying the use of computers to implement formal mathematical proofs. All of these positions have required strong problem-solving abilities. Being a math major certainly builds these skills, but participating in research brings them to a whole new level that is useful for any career path in mathematics.

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