The Graduate Students: Maja and Milica Taskovic

Credit: Jeff Wilson

Fifth-year and first-year math graduate student sisters. Interviewed by Steve Franklin.

You grew up in an area affected by conflict. Did growing up in Serbia influence your decision to study math?

Maja: How our parents brought us up did. They really stressed the importance of being a good student and being the best at everything you do, so maybe you have a chance to succeed in life. That’s probably why, at least in my case, I started so early. Another consequence of what was happening in Serbia is that industry was falling apart, and there were very few opportunities for jobs. So the question was where are you heading? The safest choice was to do some kind of fundamental science. 

Milica: I completely agree. The whole education system there, too, is such that it makes you think well in advance to figure out what you want to do.

Your father is a mechanical engineer, your mother is an accountant and your great-uncles were both math teachers. Does math run in the family?

Maja: My dad insisted I had to learn it so he gave me math problems, and we started working them and gradually I just got very interested. I started going to competitions and kept liking it more and more. There were some competitions in Greece, in Bulgaria, and in the U.K. so I got to travel, which was a bonus. 

Milica: Because I’m seven years younger, I used to just watch Maja and my dad doing problems, so one day my dad asked me if I wanted to try it all out, so I did, and a few years later I was following Maja’s path.

What are you each researching in graduate school?

“I used to just watch Maja and my dad doing problems... a few years later I was following Maja’s path.”

Maja: I’m studying the Boltzmann Equation and properties of its solution. This equation is a very difficult one, and we try to find out as much as we can about the properties of the solution and how it behaves. At this level of research you don’t see explicit solutions like people usually get used to in classes like calculus. Instead people try to show they exist and then you work on looking at their properties, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s very abstract.

Milica: I don’t know yet. What I can say right now is I am a little bit different than Maja in that I’m not that interested in theory. I’m leaning towards applied math. I want to see something concrete. I think I might try to connect mathematics and programming or even biology. We’ll see. I have one more year to decide and to kind of explore. 

Read more about these students and check out our series of graduate student profiles.