Julian Mak studied for a PhD in Applied Mathematics at the University of Leeds

Julian Mak

So, what made you decide to a PhD?

I did my MMath degree at the University of Durham.

Initially I went to university to become a teacher because I was inspired by my secondary school teacher. During my time I had some experience doing teacher training at local schools and I think that bureaucracy put me off.

Then I got given the opportunity by EPSRC to do a summer research project and from that I got interested in doing research, and after that I applied to do a PhD after my masters degree. 

Why was the summer project useful?

The project was more learning based than research based but it did give me the opportunity to work independently and to work on something that it an open problem rather than something that is known and has been studied. 

What is your area of research?

Loosely speaking it’s on solar dynamics, but specifically it’s on magneto hydro dynamic turbulence. So, it’s similar to normal turbulence but instead of normal fluid turbulence you look at gas turbulence in ionised gases.

I am looking at the magnetic field on normal fluid behaviour, so I am not specifically looking for applications but it could end up having an application.

I am looking at behaviours from a theoretical viewpoint. I enjoy the project as there is a good mix between applied and pure. 

So why did you choose Leeds?

It was mainly for the supervisor. I had an invite to come down and one of the projects which was on offer sounded similar to what I did for my masters project.

They were very efficient with the organisation which was another reason why I came. I had a good instinct about my potential supervisor and there was a good atmosphere here at the School of Mathematics.

Having done a year here now I know I made the right choice.

What challenges have you come up against so far?

I guess the biggest challenges have been not knowing what to expect which is a big difference to undergraduate studies where you are told that there is question but there will be an answer to that question, whereas at postgraduate it is a lot more vague.

We have a question, we don’t know if there is an answer or what answer we might be looking for, even if we do have an answer we are not quite sure how we interpret that, so it’s a lot more open-ended and exciting.

In a way it’s like exploration - you don’t know what you are expecting. Exploring into the unknown, into the sea of mathematics. 

How have you found the academic staff?

Extremely supportive, not only with mathematics but in other areas too.

One of the things I struggle with is writing as English is my second language and so they are very useful to me.

They are there to help me and tell me that it’s wrong and help me to correct it. There is an open door policy which means that if your supervisor is not around you can see someone else who will be able to help you. 

Any advice for someone thinking of doing a PhD?

I would suggest looking for the research group rather than the university itself.

Also choose your supervisor carefully as it must be someone who know you can get on well with for four years - you are spending a lot of time with them and so you need to be able to get on with them.

What would  you say to another student thinking of coming to Leeds?

Leeds is a big university, so sometimes that is a good thing as it means that you get a lot more diversity and tolerance and it means that there is a lot more on offer.