Hanmeng (Harmony) Zhan

Hanmeng (Harmony) Zhan, PhD Candidate
Harmony Zhan

Degrees: Master of Mathematics

Supervisor: Chris Godsil

What program are you in? What is your research area?

I am in the first year of my PhD in combinatorics and optimization. My research area is algebraic graph theory.

Why did you choose to study in the Faculty of Mathematics? Why did you choose the University of Waterloo?

Like many other graduate students here, I chose the University of Waterloo for its strong reputation and active research groups. During my master’s studies, I was deeply impressed by the relaxed atmosphere of the Faculty of Mathematics. This is a big plus and made me decide to stay and continue to do a PhD.

What are your career goals?

I really enjoy exploring and discovering the hidden truth during research, so my career goal is to work in academia.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your graduate career so far?

There have been several rewarding moments such as presenting in a workshop, writing a joint paper and winning a scholarship. I cannot decide which one was the most rewarding, as they all showed a sign of surpassing myself – a progress that shall never come to an end.

What has been the most challenging part of life as a graduate student?

Handling the situation when stuck for a long time in research has been the most challenging part. It is not easy to keep motived when one seems to run out of tricks and reach the limit of his/her experience.

What has been your favorite course or project so far in grad school?

My favourite course has been algebraic graph theory, which introduced elegant algebraic approaches to a wide range of graph theoretic problems. As a graduate student in this area, I found the open problems discussed in the end of each class quite intriguing.

Can you describe any practical or hands-on experience you’ve had during your studies?

Contrary to my first impression of theoretical research, I have benefited a lot from computer software. Whenever I had no intuition about a problem, I ran a program on small inputs in SAGE, a math software system recommended by my supervisor, to seek a pattern. It is always easier to prove a theory after seeing some supporting examples. Besides, carrying out these math experiments gives me a rough idea of how hard the problem can be in practice.

How do you describe combinatorics and optimization to your friends and family?

Both are cool subjects closely related to real-world problems. Combinatorics tells you how to count chemical compounds and whether you can walk around a city crossing each bridge exactly once. Optimization tells you which path home is the shortest and how much you should invest to maximize your return.

How do you spend your time outside of school?

At the weekend, I usually hang out with friends or try out some new restaurants. If I stay at home, I play the piano, watch anime or play video games.

Do you have any words of advice for people considering or planning graduate studies at the University of Waterloo? What about for people who may be interested in C&O?

Waterloo is a small, peaceful city that is ideal for research and study. However, there might be a point when you feel stressed, unmotivated or depressed. It is important to live an active life to keep your mind fresh. Eat healthy, sleep well, exercise regularly, talk with professors and friends, and do something new from time to time.

For those who are considering joining C&O: get ready to meet friendly, smart, creative, and fun people! You will feel proud to be part of this family.