Sheela Devadas was 15 when she was first exposed to representation theory and other subfields of mathematics as a participant in PRIMES, MIT’s Program for Research in Mathematics, Engineering and Science for high-school students. Later that fall she was a finalist in the Advantage Testing Foundation’s Math Prize for Girls, hosted that year by MIT.
Fast forward to Devadas’s final semester as an MIT senior. Just months away from graduating with a degree in math — and completing her undergraduate studies in only three years — Devadas traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to accept the 2015 Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics from the Association for Women in Mathematics. She is also co-author of a paper on representation theory that appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of the Journal of Commutative Algebra.
PRIMES was formative in Devadas’ decision to pursue math as a career (she will be starting graduate school this fall, although she does not yet know where). “I already knew I was interested in math when I started PRIMES, but it was definitely what convinced me that academia was my goal. I got a sense of what math research was actually like.”
Her advice for incoming MIT students who like math but aren’t sure if they want to major in it? “I would definitely recommend taking math classes beyond General Institute Requirements. Some of them are a lot of fun and they give you a better sense of what math is like than the required calculus classes might.”
Devadas is the sixth person from MIT to win the Schafer prize in the 25 years it has been awarded. Past award recipients are Fan Wei ’12, who won the prize in 2012; Charmaine Sia ’10, co-winner in 2010; Maria Monks ’10, who won in 2009; Galyna Dobrovolska ’09, who won in 2008; and Ruth Britto-Pacumio ’96, who won in 1995.
Read about other students’ experiences with PRIMES, in their own words.