Dr. Merav Parter: Having faith in math
If you want to devote your life to the study of math, says Dr. Merav Parter, “you have to be a little irrational.
” Dr. Parter, who received her PhD in the spring from the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, says that with a clear sense of irony.
“Real breakthroughs in any field are rare, and if a scientist or mathematician is lucky, he or she will have one really good discovery in the course of his or her career. So working on a particular problem in math day after day, month after month, year after year isn’t entirely rational,” she says. “So one needs a bit of spirituality and faith to keep pursuing the solution to a problem that no one has ever solved before.”
Dr. Parter, who studied under the guidance of Prof. David Peleg, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, is religiously observant— which, she says, “is helpful to me in creating order and patterns in my life, and in the faith it gives me.” She also writes songs, and is a literature buff.
Her field is the topology of wireless communication: how wireless networks—for our phones, Internet, and other telecommunication methods—can function better, based on more sophisticated algorithms. Think eradication of dead zones, perfect reception from anywhere on earth to anywhere else on earth: this is what she and other mathematicians in this field are striving for.
“Merav was the kind of model student that any advisor dreams of having: full of energy, creative and extremely bright, fearless when it comes to entering new topics and mastering advanced and complex mathematical techniques, and at the same time pleasant and modest,” says Prof. Peleg.
This summer, Dr. Parter moved to Boston, where she is doing her postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, in one of the world’s top communications and engineering labs. She was one of the Feinberg Graduate School’s most outstanding students and the FGS graduation ceremony’s student keynote speaker. She received the prestigious Dimitris N. Chorafas Prize this year, the Google European Doctoral Fellowship in Distributed Computing, and the Dean’s Award for Excellence for her MSc studies, among other honors. Her postdoctoral studies are supported by a Fulbright fellowship, a Rothschild fellowship, and the Israel National Postdoctoral Award for Women in Science offered by the Weizmann Institute.
From industry to the bench
Dr. Parter, who grew up in Bat-Yam, and did her MSc at the Weizmann Institute in an altogether different field: bioinformatics, in the lab of Prof. Uri Alon of the Department of Molecular Cell Biology. She then worked for CheckPoint Software Technologies Ltd., one of Israel’s most successful high-tech companies in the field of telecommunications security, as a software engineer. There, she says, “I learned about the practical needs in the field of electrical engineering. But I missed the academic environment. I had already tasted basic research at Weizmann, and had gotten used to the freedom of thought and exploration that it offered.”
So she came back to the Institute for her PhD studies, but with a new focus: math. Like Prof. Alon, Prof. Peleg was an outstanding mentor. “David didn’t give me answers,” she says. “He asked me questions to which there are answers, and told me to approach them alone, as I thought best. Since then, when I have advised [masters’] students, I have tried to take the same approach. I tell them, ‘Stop reading how everyone else tried to solve the problem. You may come up with something even better this way.’” That’s an unsettling place for many students to be, but, she says, it’s doable with just a little bit of irrational faith.