Making a home among numbers and patterns


- Nicole Crozier

Moss. Credit: Nicole Crozier

For many people, math is a popular subject to hate. For graduating science student Elena Moss, it’s the subject she loves and has spent the five years of her degree studying—and the subject she intends to keep studying for the next five, as she heads to the Berlin Mathematical School in Germany this fall to begin graduate studies. 

“Math is pure problem-solving. We all use math every day, thinking through problems. It’s methodical, but also really creative. It’s not just plug and play, but also requires you to have strokes of insight,” says Moss, explaining what draws her to the discipline. 

Moss wasn’t always interested in math. In high school, she wanted to go to medical school. However, after taking a gap year, she applied to UVic at the last minute and put down math as her intended major, following in the footsteps of her father. In her first year, she took a wide variety of science courses. She found she hated biology and wasn’t a huge fan of her first-year calculus course, but she did love the other types of math she was learning. A second-year course in discrete math and combinatorics sealed the deal—she was fascinated and wanted to learn more.

Finding a love for math was a little easier for Moss than finding community within the math department, though. In fall 2020, when all UVic courses went online, Moss found herself feeling disconnected from her peers. 

“It was lonely, and all I was doing was studying—sometimes 10-15 hours a day. I would have a timer on my iPad and would try to beat the timer when completing tasks. I was gamifying learning in a dangerous way.”

Moss also felt alone as a woman in math that fall. No one turned on their camera in class, and the voices speaking up in class were mostly male. To help create more of a community in the department, Moss took over as president of the UVic chapter of the Association for Women in Math. In her two years as president, the UVSS club hosted weekly study sessions (virtual at first, and then in-person), created a seminar series with women in academic and industry, and organized a summer camp for high school girls to check out UVic math last summer. 

Ultimately, Moss learned that there were more women in her math classes than she thought. 

“I’d estimate that 30 to 40 per cent of math students at UVic are female, and within discrete math, the numbers are pretty balanced. The department also has some really strong female professors, so there are lots of role models to look to.” 

Since that lonely fall of 2020, Moss has really made a home for herself in the math department. She has been a teaching assistant for first-year calculus courses, and a tutor for the Math and Stats Assistance Centre. She’s also been involved in research within the department. Through a Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award, she spent the 2021-22 academic year working on eternal paired domination in trees, and through an Undergraduate Summer Research Award, she spent a summer studying off-diagonal Ramsey multiplicity. 

Moss was also involved in research outside the department. She completed a co-op term and her honours project with the BC Cancer Deeley Research Centre, where she examined the spatial relationships between different types of immune cells, trying to determine if the distance between certain cell types positively or negatively impacted patient outcome. Moss’s honours project took top place in mathematics at the 2022 Honours Fest. 

Moss has had lots of success during her time as a student at UVic, but says she is most proud of learning to let go of perfectionism.

“In high school, I was focused on getting 100s, on getting scholarships. In university, that’s not a practical mindset. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be the best. I need to do well, but not at the detriment of other things in life.” 

Moss may not be striving to be the best anymore, but she’s still managed to make a major impact by just ‘doing well.’ 


In this story

Keywords: convocation, mathematics, co-op, gender

People: Elena Moss

Publication: The Ring

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