Sophie Spirkl, an assistant professor in combinatorics and optimization, was named among this year’s winners of the Early Researcher Award.
The Early Researcher Award program, administered through the province of Ontario, assists promising, recently appointed researchers to build their research teams. This year, three faculty members with links to the Faculty of Mathematics were among the winners.
Spirkl’s research focuses on structural graph theory. She previously won the Golden Jubilee Research Excellence Award and the Charlotte Elizabeth Procter Fellowship from Princeton University.
Spirkl and a team of co-investigators have recently made a significant breakthrough on the Erdős-Hajnal conjecture, with promising indications of further progress coming.
“The great thing about this award is that it will allow me to keep building my research team,” Spirkl says. “In my experience, it’s teamwork that fosters the most productive research. Getting my team together to think about problems is beneficial to graduate students, so they get some hands-on experience. And it’s beneficial to me as well, as I learn so much this way.”
Spirkl says that the Early Researcher Award will also be a boon for her graduate students, now that they are able to travel to conferences again, and that this part of the academic experience is one of the best ways to move research forward.
“I’m especially grateful to my department chair, Jochen Koenemann, for being so encouraging and helpful,” she continues. “Everyone in combinatorics and optimization has been wonderful, even in the short time I’ve been at Waterloo and the even shorter time I’ve been on campus because of the pandemic. The collegiality makes all the difference.”
Asked what is next for her research program, Spirkl says that with so many advances and breakthroughs happening in the field of graph theory, anything is possible.
“So many new doors are opening up. It’s an exciting time to be doing this research.”