"Seriously. It doesn’t matter what career path you follow, employers want logical thinkers, problem solvers, and those who show creativity – that is what mathematics trains you to be."
Meet Sophie Calabretto, NYSF 2005 Alumna and fluid mechanist. In 2017 Sophie was named one of the Top 5 in Under 40 on ABC's RN program. Read on to follow her career path from her time at the NYSF to where she is today.
"I am a fluid mechanist and, currently, a Lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Macquarie University. I attended the National Youth Science Forum in 2005, because I liked science and, to be honest, because my high school Deputy Principal suggested I should go. But luckily I listened to him, and was fortunate enough to be selected. At the time I was going to be either a chemical engineer or an astrophysicist. After spending my two weeks in Canberra at the NYSF, astrophysics was declared the victor, however, one very important message that I took away with me was to do a general degree, rather than a ‘named’ degree. Because people change their minds, and I definitely did.
I started a BA/BSc at the University of Adelaide so I could do French and astrophysics, but in doing all the maths I needed for physics, I got completely drawn into applied mathematics. Without maths, there is certainly no physics, nor any other science for that matter! I ended up with majors in Physics, Theoretical Physics, French, and Applied Maths, and then embraced my destiny and moved on to Honours in Applied Maths (looking at the mathematics of neuron firing in the brain). But then I got hooked on fluid dynamics; I got my PhD, did a stint in Switzerland as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute of Mechanical Systems at ETH Zürich, and then was recruited back to Australia to take up a position of Lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Macquarie University.
I never thought I’d be a mathematician, but my job is pretty cool. I teach, I do research, and I do a lot of what we like to call ‘outreach’. My research in fluid dynamics seeks to understand and predict the behaviour of rotating fluids, exploring fundamental questions in fluid physics, with the potential to impact fields as diverse as aerodynamics and climate science.
In May 2017, I was selected as one of ABC RN (and UNSW)’s Top 5 Under 40; a program designed to discover Australia's next generation of science communicators and give them a voice. This has given me a platform through radio spots, online articles, and social media videos, to start demystifying maths to a wider audience, and to change people’s perception of it. People don’t seem to like maths very much, but they should (I’m talking to you!).
Through attending the NYSF (both as a student and a staffie) and the Canada-Wide Science Fair, I met some wonderful people, many of whom I still call friends today. Meet as many people as you can! Although I’m not the most naturally outgoing person when I first meet new people (and so I didn’t love that part of the NYSF at the time), this kind of casual networking will pop up later in life in the most helpful of ways.
Top Left: Sophie as a Student Staff Leader, Top Right: Sophie at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in 2005 Bottom Left: Sophie with the NYSF Einstein group in 2005, Bottom Right: Sophie at work.
If I could give any advice, and this may sound biased coming from an applied mathematician, but do as much maths as possible, for as long as possible. Seriously. It doesn’t matter what career path you follow, employers want logical thinkers, problem solvers, and those who show creativity – that is what mathematics trains you to be. Some people talk about mathematics being beautiful, which it is. But more importantly, it’s the language through which we engage with our modern world."