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B2F Cohort Corner: Marcus Michelen

Marcus Michelen

At the end of his time as a Bridge to the Faculty (B2F) scholar, Marcus Michelen is sharing his insights and experiences with the program.

Michelen is a member of the inaugural 2020 B2F cohort in Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, which he joined after starting at UIC in 2019 as a research assistant professor in that department.

What motivated you to apply for the B2F Program?

I first heard about the B2F program while I was a postdoc (research assistant professor) at UIC in the department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. I heard about the program at lunch with a few faculty members; the department had been quite supportive of me and my work (and continues to be), and so I happily applied.

What is the focus of your work in this program?

My work during my year in the B2F program was quite in line with the work I did during my year as a postdoc as well as my first year as an assistant professor. Overall, I am a mathematician who works on probability, which means I typically work on problems related to randomness. A sequence of work — one of which was during my year in the B2F program — I’m particularly proud of is a pair of papers concerning random matrices. A consequence of this work has to do with algorithms. There are some instances of large matrices (think of a spreadsheet of data) on which many algorithms run slowly. The work I’ve been doing demonstrates that while some instances behave poorly with algorithms, if you add just a tiny bit of randomness to each element of the spreadsheet, then it very likely behaves well with algorithms.

In what ways has this program impacted your work?

This program has helped me begin my career with the ability to put research at the forefront of my work.

What are your hopes for how you will take your experiences with the B2F Program into your future professional endeavors?

The B2F program is great for helping re-balance the scales of academia, which will be an ongoing process. My experiences within the program have helped remind me that while work is happening, the academic world has a way to go towards achieving what programs like B2F set out to do.

In your opinion, what are the larger impacts of the B2F Program?

 In my opinion, increasing the percentage of faculty members who look like their students helps the students as well as improves academia writ large. As a Dominican-American, the fact that UIC is a Hispanic Serving Institution and serves a significant Hispanic and Latinx student population is an aspect I appreciate about the university; the B2F program is a step towards helping the university have more faculty that reflects their student body. Of course, UIC is fortunate to serve many different types of students (not just Latinx students), and the B2F program has made progress towards having a positive impact on various groups on the UIC campus.