How maths brought two PhD students together

14 February 2018
University of Sydney mathematicians Zsuzsanna Dancso and Stephen Morgan found they had a common denominator.

Zsuzsanna: I met Stephen in Toronto where I’d moved to do my PhD in mathematics. We were in the same group of friends but we weren’t very close. In fact, Stephen seemed terrified of me and did his best to avoid me. I think the reason was because I’m nosy and asked a lot of questions, which made Stephen uncomfortable because he’s quite reserved. He warmed up to me eventually.

Stephen: I’m not sure if we ever had a first date. We just realised we were spending most of our time together, and it just made sense to become a couple. Being friends first made the transition to being a couple a lot easier.

We moved to Australia in 2015 when Zsuzsi got a postdoc at ANU in Canberra, where we lived for a couple of years. Life in Canberra was really different to Sydney. It’s much quieter and there’s less going on. While we were there our son Oliver was born, so having a lot of stuff to do became less important. We had great friends and a community, which mattered much more.

We moved to Sydney last July when Zsuzsi got a position at the University. We’re still finding our feet – trying to discover the little things that make life feel normal. We’re living in the inner-west and were devastated when our favourite baguette place in Petersham closed down – now we’re back to square one!

We moved to Sydney last July. We’re still finding our feet – trying to discover the little things that make life feel normal.

Zsuzsanna: I grew up in Budapest and lived in Toronto, so I’m used to living in big cities, though it’s hard to take full advantage of city life with a small child to focus on. Things like the cost of living, the commute and the traffic impact our lives.

Permanent jobs in academia are hard to come by, so we’re pretty lucky. I’m working as a mathematics lecturer, and Stephen is working as a science communicator. The academic market is extremely competitive, so we’re not sure what the future will bring for us. Our dream used to be to settle in Canada, but when I think about 10 years from now I think about Sydney. I’d like to owe a lot of money to the bank so I can live in a house I own 5 percent of (!) and for our Oliver to be enjoying school. I really hope to just enjoy my work.

Stephen Morgan and Zsuzsanna Dancso with their son Oliver.

Stephen Morgan and Zsuzsanna Dancso with their son Oliver. 


Stephen: We talk about maths at home too – if there’s a problem that one of us can’t figure out then we’ll work on it together. There’s this perception of maths just being calculations – memorising the formula, plugging in the number. It’s not that at all. It’s full of connections to discover and puzzles to solve.

Zsuzsanna: The analogy I like to use is that people think maths is just grammar, when in fact it is poetry. Sure, you have to know the language and the syntax and be aware of the rules of grammar to write a novel or a poem, but knowing grammar doesn’t instantly make you a good writer. It’s the same with maths – you have to be able to think logically and do computations and things, but it’s not the point, the point is to create new ideas.

Stephen: A lot of people ask if spending all our time together at work and home is too much but we’ve never found that. It’s actually really nice working in the same building, and we have lunch together most days. When we were working at ANU we shared an office – some people found it strange, but the close proximity works for us.

Zsuzsanna: We’re just really used to being around each other all the time – and we still like each other! 

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