10 Minutes With: Hyungsuk Tak, SAMSI Postdoctoral Fellow

We recently took a moment to   connect with one of our busy   Postdoctoral Fellows, Hyungsuk Tak. We took ten minutes and asked him ten questions…This is what he had to say:

1. What made you decide to pursue a future in mathematics? Who has inspired you the most in your career thus far?

Tak: I have loved mathematics since my college days! But I did not like doing math for the sake of mathematics. I know that it is exciting for some people, but to me, it was boring. Instead, I wanted to use mathematics to solve real-world problems. In this sense, Statistics was PERFECT FOR ME. However, I had no intention to pursue a Ph.D. until I met Professor Carl N. Morris in the Harvard Statistics Department. He helped me experience statistical research and this motivated me to transfer into the Ph.D. program. During my Ph.D., I met Professors Xiao-Li Meng and David van Dyk who introduced Astro-Statistics to me. This later became my career path and it is why I am working in the ASTRO Program here at SAMSI.

2. Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?

Tak: I grew up in Seoul, South Korea. I also received my undergrad degree there. I then moved to the USA for my masters and Ph.D. in Statistics at Harvard.


“I personally believe that mathematical ability comes from the power of thinking, the power of thinking comes from imagining something, and imagining something comes from reading books.”


3. When you aren’t tackling complex math equations or doing research, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Tak: I mainly do three things in my spare time: 1) reading; 2) exercise; and 3) surf the internet. For instance, in the morning I always read a book (written in Korean) while I have breakfast, for about 30 minutes – I like historical and classical novels more than contemporary ones. If I find the book really interesting, then I often read the book after I get home until I go to bed. I also do exercise for about two hours on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. When I was a child I suffered from tuberculosis, so health is the most important thing in my life. When I get home, I often spend most of my time surfing the internet and get caught up with current events by reading Korean news articles. I really enjoy seeing how our new Korean president, Moon Jae-in, is doing? He is the person I voted for in the recent Korean Presidential Election.

4. What were some of the reasons you decided to apply for a SAMSI Postdoctoral fellowship?

Tak: There were three reasons: 1) SAMSI post-docs have a great amount of freedom in doing research because SAMSI allows post-docs to work with any professors or researchers at Duke, UNC, NCSU, and/or any other universities in the USA; 2) SAMSI is the place where domain scientists visit (physically or remotely) for collaborations, which means there are plenty of opportunities to learn new things. Finally, SAMSI post-doc fellows receive a generous salary for a post-doc position in Statistics.

5. What are some of the things that have intrigued you about the SAMSI program you are supporting this academic year?

Tak: I currently serve in the ASTRO program. The most intriguing thing is that I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet and work with astronomers who have brought interesting and realistic problems to SAMSI during the workshops or weekly meetings. All my current research, that was initiated after I came to SAMSI, is based on solving these realistic problems.

6. What program or workshops will you be supporting in the 2017-2018 academic year? Are you looking forward to any new research coming up?

Tak: I am continuing my research in Astro-Statistics rather than start new research in other fields unless there is a program closely related to my current research in terms of methodology.

7. How are you enjoying living and working in North Carolina?

Tak: When I landed at the RDU airport (from Boston), I saw, from the airplane, that N.C. is full of trees. Everything I saw through the window in the airplane was green with almost no buildings – I immediately loved this nature-friendly environment. I saw a fox (or coyote) and I have seen many deer around SAMSI; one day three deer were standing next to the entrance! I really enjoy N.C. for the nature-friendly lifestyle. I also enjoy sometimes hiking and walking trails.

8. When your time is over at SAMSI, what will you miss the most and why?

Tak: I will miss the people at SAMSI the most. For example, post-docs, administrative officers, directors, graduate and faculty fellows, visitors, and custodians. Since I spend most of my time on the SAMSI campus, plus the fact that the institute is a little isolated (surrounded by woods), even a short and small interaction with people at SAMSI has been invaluable and memorable to me.

9. What are your plans for the future? Do you see yourself working in academics or business/industry and why?

Tak: I am going to apply for a tenure-track position at an academic institution in the US this winter. If it does not work out however, then I will start looking for industry jobs early next year. I may not do a second post-doc.

10. What advice and/or guidance would you give to other undergraduate/graduate students interested in working in mathematics?

Tak: I recommend reading as many books as possible. I personally believe that mathematical ability comes from the power of thinking, the power of thinking comes from imagining something, and imagining something comes from reading books. Again, this is not based on a causal inference but based on my personal belief (prior information that can be biased!).

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