June 23, 2020

Class of 2020: Graduate on personal mission to encourage girls to study math

Taking a chance on math led to lifelong passion for Science grad Taylor Markham

When Taylor Markham started her undergraduate studies, she never imagined that she would find her niche in mathematics. However, with an open mind and a willingness to try something new, her undergraduate career solidified into an education in mathematics, a research project in Hawaii, several research grants, and a mission to increase the profile of women in math.

Markham graduates this year with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Calgary.

Cryptography course ‘sealed the deal’ for mathematics career

Although she took her first year of undergraduate studies to explore her options, Markham says, “I made a point of taking courses from several different departments to see what types of courses I enjoyed the most.” After taking a chance on an introductory course in cryptography, she was hooked.

I enjoyed the abstractness of the more advanced courses and how they challenged me to think critically and develop my problem-solving skills.

“I liked how cryptography in particular demonstrated how some of the abstract concepts seen in other mathematics courses can have applications in everyday life," she says. "As my degree progressed, I found myself most intrigued by the cryptography and number theory courses that I had the opportunity to take.”

As she progressed through her undergraduate career, Markham became passionate about sharing her love of the subject with others, particularly if they became exposed to, and excited about, new areas of mathematics.

She began participating in a number of outreach events and programs, including the Girls Excel in Math (GEM) program, organized by Dr. Lauren DeDieu, PhD. GEM ran a series of workshops for girls in Grades 6 to 8 to learn about various fun mathematics topics. Markham also volunteered at several robotics workshops run by Robogals UCalgary, and was heavily involved with the University of Calgary Student Chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics, becoming their acclaimed president for the 2019-2020 academic year. 

Taylor presenting at a SURE workshop at UH Mānoa.

Taylor presenting at a SURE workshop at UH Mānoa.

Study abroad opportunity a transformative experience

Markham's excellence in, and passion for, her chosen field of study did not go unnoticed. In 2019, she applied for and received a Mitacs Globalink Research Award and an IDEAS Fund scholarship through the Faculty of Science that allowed her to do a summer research project in Hawaii. She was the first Faculty of Science student to apply for the Globalink award after the agreement between the University of Calgary and Mitacs.

Focusing on the topic of integer factorization in an area of mathematics called computational number theory, Markham was supervised by Dr. Annie Carter at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) — where the majority of her research took place — and Dr. Mark Bauer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

While in Hawaii, she was also able to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), which organized workshops to help build professional and academic skills. Near the end of Markham's time in Hawaii, she had the opportunity to share what she had been working on by giving talks at the SURE Symposium and at the UH Mānoa Department of Mathematics number theory seminar. She completed the remaining few weeks of her research with Bauer upon returning to Calgary.

Taylor at UH Mānoa

Taylor at UH Mānoa

“The research placement seemed to be a pivotal moment for Taylor,” says Heather Clitheroe, international co-ordinator in the Faculty of Science. “She was already a strong young woman, but something really was different about her in a very positive way when she came back. I’m thrilled that she’s moving on to graduate-level study.”

Applying math to everyday life

Upon her return to UCalgary, Markham received an Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) in winter 2020, and began working on a project under the supervision of Dr. Kristine Bauer, PhD, in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Dr. Jessica Theodor, PhD, in the Department of Biological Sciences.

The purpose of the project was to update the Science Collections Room in BI 540 to show the connection between mathematics and various biological phenomena by creating a combination of visual displays and accompanying text. For this project, Markham researched Alan Turing’s mechanism for spot/stripe patterns, the fractal formation of ammonite sutures, and the hyperbolic geometry of coral reefs.

“Taylor is a very professional student and she is very outcome oriented. It has been a pleasure to collaborate with her both in and out of the classroom because she can simultaneously be personable and effective at accomplishing the task at hand,” says Bauer. "As a math major, I feel that she is a kindred spirit because she has shown an interest in so many different subjects. She takes a very liberal arts approach to her science education, which is very similar to the way that I approach mathematics and its place in art, society and science.”

After graduating with her undergraduate degree, Markham will be continuing her education. She was accepted into the graduate program in mathematics and statistics in the Faculty of Science, where she will pursue her studies under the supervision of Mark Bauer. 

Her advice to young women looking to explore their strengths in mathematics? Get out and participate! “We have a really good community here,” she says. “Participating in events will open up more opportunities, and you can just go from there.”