Women in Science Wednesday: Yaiza Canzani

Yaiza Canzani is an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. Her research focuses on understanding the behavior of wave functions that solve Schrodinger’s equation — the mathematical formulation for studying the energy levels of quantum mechanical systems like atoms.

Yaiza Canzani
(Photo by Alyssa LaFaro)

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Describe your research in five words.

“Quantum particles avoid my zeros.”

When I was younger, it was much easier for me to think about what I didn’t want to be. I knew, for example, that I would never end up doing anything related to sports — I’m too much of a couch person!

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.

I come from Uruguay, and over there you choose your career when you are 18 years old. Then, you spend the four years of your undergrad taking courses directly related to your election. I think I was too young to make such a decision. What I knew at the time was that I was good at math, and that I really liked chemistry.

There is only one public university in Uruguay, and the buildings for the different careers are spread across the capital, Montevideo. I chose to do math because the math department was a 10-minute walk from home, while the chemistry building was an hour away by bus (ha!).  I was 18 — what can I say! After starting the career in math, though, I realized that I loved it, and it became clear to me that doing research in math would lead me to a happy life. So I kept going.

What’s an interesting/funny story from your time doing research?

Doing research in pure math means that you spend endless hours in front of a blank page of paper. One time, when I was stuck on one of my research projects, I learned to decorate cakes — something that, it turns out, helps my brain find peace. So I guess this hobby could be considered a byproduct of my research experience. (But I should disclose that I don’t actually like eating cake!)


What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

Have fun challenging yourself. Math research can sometimes be very hard since most of the time you will not have a clue of how to attack a problem. But that’s the fun part: You get to push your own boundaries — and you may end up proving something new that wasn’t known until you put your mind to it. So push through the hard times. Don’t quit. Remind yourself that you are in it for the fun.

Also, never isolate yourself. Get out of your office, talk to colleagues, go to conferences, share your work, and try to constantly learn as much as possible from others. And, most importantly, while doing these zillion things make sure you also have a happy life outside academia.  That will help you get through those hard moments where you are dead stuck — it definitely helped me.

Story courtesy of Endeavors magazine.