Exploring the cadence of mathematics
Queen’s PhD candidate Patrick Reynolds is passionate about math. “I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the universe,” he says with an unabashed smile. “Studying math is a chance to think about things that extend far beyond the human experience. The language of mathematics is just so beautiful, that the more you explore it, the more clear its beauty becomes...and that motivates you to want to learn more and more.”
But Reynolds’ calling wasn’t always obvious. Setting out on his academic career, Reynolds, a former bagpiper who also sings and plays guitar, says he was torn between math and music. It was while taking a physics course at Saint Francis Xavier -- one in which he learned about the mathematics of musical tones -- that the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia native found that his fate had been sealed.
Reynolds relocated to Ontario in 2004 to start his Master’s degree at Queen’s, and then seamlessly moved into the PhD program two years later. “I’ve heard time and time again that where you get your degree is the key when you get a job,” he says of his decision on where to pursue graduate work. “For me, there were two main things that were important: the reputation of my supervisor, and the reputation of the university.”
However, as excited as he is about math, Reynolds, who works in “partial differential equations” admits that when he first started his graduate work, he wasn’t hugely keen on the research end of things. “It was only after I got here that I found myself drawn to research,” he says, crediting his supervisor, Oleg Bogoyavlenskij for the inspiration. Reynolds always knew he liked teaching and says it was what initially drew him to graduate studies. “Even taking courses as an undergrad...I realized that I didn’t want to teach high school. I wanted to teach at a higher level.”
Reynolds has since taught four courses since coming to Queen’s and has twice been nominated for the Frank Knox award, the highest university teaching award given to instructors by students. His current goal is to find an academic job as a mathematician and researcher, ideally at a small, east-coast university, when he earns his PhD later this year.
Reynolds admits he’ll be sorry to give up life as a graduate student. He admits there have been challenges however, Reynolds says they have had more to do with motivation and time management than anything else (he also had a 10-month-old son), “but in the end, it’s up to you to get the work done.” Ultimately, Reynolds says he’s loved his time at Queen’s.
“It’s been fantastic,” he says, “it’s the biggest pursuit I’ve ever undertaken, but it’s definitely been the most rewarding.”