Meet Sri Lankan Researcher-Heshan Aravinda

What are you currently working on?

I’m a second-year PhD student in Mathematics at the University of Florida. My research interest lies broadly in the area of pure mathematics, more specifically, Measure theory and real analysis.

I got my first taste of pure mathematics research during my fourth year as an undergraduate at the University of Kelaniya. My research work focused on the convergence of sub-series of the harmonic series. I presented my work at the IRSPAS 2016 and at SLAAS in 2017.

What encouraged you to pursue your research topic?

Several factors encouraged me to choose this area of research.

1. Real analysis is a branch of pure mathematics which is considered a cornerstone to many areas of mathematics and it is strongly proof-oriented.

2. I have been taking graduate-level analysis courses since the beginning of the PhD program which helped me get a good grasp of the subject.

3. The analysis group at the University of Florida is actively engaged in research in a broad range of topics.

What is the name of your current University?

University of Florida

Where do you find your best inspiration for your work?

I look up to renowned mathematicians and great sports personalities for inspiration. Many of them have overcome failures and obstacles to achieve great results. I like digging into such stories and to see what I can learn from them.

Can you share with us some of your publications?

You can access my thesis abstract via this link.

What’s one of your biggest personal achievements so far?

Getting admitted into the PhD program.

What lessons would you share with a budding researcher?

Getting the most out of your undergraduate research experience is very important. In order to do that, you have to interact not only with your advisor but with the rest of the faculty in your department as well. Always keep up-to-date with recent advances in your research area by attending seminars and conferences. In addition, there are open access repositories (ex: arXiv) available online so hundreds of thousands of research papers are readily accessible now.

Work hard to become the best version of yourself and the results will take care of themselves.

What motivated you to be a researcher?

In general, it is difficult to motivate people to do things they don’t like to do. The biggest motivation for me is having a genuine interest in doing mathematics. I kept asking myself, ‘Should I keep studying mathematics?’ The answer turned out to be, ‘yes, you should, since that makes you happy’, which is the reason I am who I am today.

Also, I was inspired by the life stories of two great mathematicians Ramanujan & John Nash; particularly Ramanujan, who made substantial contributions to mathematics, in spite of the stereotypes he faced.

If there is a chance, will you help build research in Sri Lanka?

Of course, I will.

According to your opinion, what are the changes that the Sri Lankan education system needs to do, in order to meet the requirement of the international industry and academia?

This is a broad topic but I would particularly focus on my specialized area. In my opinion, I would like to see major changes in secondary, collegiate and university-level mathematics education.

Learning mathematics is the key to develop our analytical skills. Many professions require you to have the ability to work in a competitive and problem-solving environment; therefore, it is important for students to have mathematics proficiency. Unfortunately, we have not achieved this yet. One main reason is our mathematics curriculum. It’s known that the national curriculum is heavily focused on preparing students for standardized tests. This approach is no different when it comes to mathematics. Students are often judged by their grades. As a result, students start doubting their ability to do mathematics and avoid doing it as they move forward. In order to change this situation, some adjustments need to be made. That’s why teaching mathematics becomes ever so important. Instructors must adopt new strategies to keep students interested in the subject like challenging them by assigning a variety of problems to work on, arranging group works and encouraging them to ask questions. In addition, professional development must also be part of mathematics teaching.

The other thing is mathematics education at the university level. In my opinion, our university system has been struggling to hire and retain quality math teachers. This has negatively affected both teaching and mathematical research. Therefore, necessary steps must be taken in order to increase faculty positions and also to hire qualified faculty with research experience. Emphasis must also be placed on organizing seminars, conferences and career information sessions. Both students and faculty will benefit from these programs as they will open up new career and research opportunities.

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