So what am I doing when I’m not outside swimming, running and cycling around?

Triathlon training and racing does take up a large amount of time, but for me, it’s not enough to fill my days. I am a student at the University of Oxford. In June 2015, I completed my Master of Mathematics Degree. In October 2015, I have continued my studies in Oxford and started my PhD degree in Combinatorics.

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It is not so much about managing two careers, it is more about bringing them together day by day and making sure that one helps you manage the other. The balance between the challenges in sports and academics is a critical factor for my success - in triathlon and in mathematics. 

I have always been intrigued by the beauty of Mathematics and can only say that my love for the subject has grown over the past years. For me, there is nothing better than coming in from a session and getting “lost” in the world of Mathematics for a while, and everyone who has been on a training camp with me before knows, that that is just what I tend to do.

Triathlon and Mathematics - my two big passions 

“Choose a job that you love, and you ill never have to work a day in your life”. I have been lucky enough to have found two things that I love. To me, it feels like a privilege being able to combine the two big passions in my life. I love triathlon, but I think spending every minute of every day thinking about the next session, the next race, would make me overthink what I do. I need to be able to switch off and not worry about how I’m going to survive that next hard run session for a while – and my degree gives me the space and time to do exactly that. Similarly, Mathematics is, in my opinion, a subject where one sometimes gets stuck by thinking just in one direction, by looking at a problem in the wrong way – and the only thing that will help you get a fresh look at the problem is by going away and not thinking about it for a while! And my sport gives me the space to do exactly that.

And this is exactly my philosophy. It is not so much about managing two careers, it is more about bringing them together day by day and making sure that one helps you manage the other. The sport helps me with my degree: it gives me time and space to clear my head, to leave work behind and - literally - run away a little. And on the other hand, the degree helps me in triathlon: I can go away and concentrate on other things, if training or racing are not going as I want. The balance between the challenges in sports and academics is a critical factor for my success - in triathlon and in mathematics. 

So what’s it like to study in Oxford?

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Getting into Oxford might not be the easiest of tasks: after submitting my application including the Personal Statement, a long entry exam and four interviews later, I managed to somehow receive an offer from Oxford – just a few days before Christmas 2010 - and I was probably one of the happiest girls alive.  In the past years, I have developed a great love for the city and the University’s tradition. It’s not everywhere that you have to wear white tie and a “Harry Potter” gown to be allowed to write your exam. It’s also not everywhere that you are allowed to learn from some of the best in their subject, often in tutorials with just one other student there apart from you. It’s a privilege to be studying there and to meet so many inspiring people on a daily basis. In the past years, I have been allowed to partake in this from the other side: I have been teaching undergraduate students at St Catherine’s College and St Edmund Hall. While teaching can be hard work at times, I get immense pleasure from watching and helping these young adults grow up and develop into great Mathematicians. I do however have to admit, that it still overwhelms me at times - like interviewing prospective students this December in the same room where I had my Oxford interviews just 7 years ago - and being one of the people deciding about their future.

IMG 1262But there is also another side to Oxford: the sport. Sport definitely plays a big role in University life and is also valued quite highly. For example, there is a saying that in order for ones time in Oxford to have been successful, one has to leave with “a Blue, a spouse or a First”, where a Blue is awarded for sporting achievements for the University. Many of you might have heard of the famous “Varsity” Rowing Race on the Thames between Oxford and Cambridge happening once a year. This so called “Varsity” race actually exists in almost every sport you can think of, and is the most important race of the year for every single Oxford club – we really don’t like Cambridge beating us!

And then there is the Iffley Road Stadium, where I do my regular training. At this place, the first sub-four minute mile was run in 1954 and Roger Bannister was also an Oxford student at that time - he is still around Oxford quite frequently and actually a really cool and inspiring guy.


And what is it that I want to do with my degree?

That is a good question, and I know a lot of people think that all you can do with a mathematics degree is become a maths teacher! Not to offend any Maths teachers out there, but that’s certainly not what I want to do. The options are actually almost endless: Mathematics is all around us! From working in banking, over consulting, IT, biosciences, medicine, all the way to technical design and development (of bikes for example… see why I think Maths is cool?). 

As mentioned above, I decided to continue my studies and have started my PhD degree in Combinatorics in October 2015, which is also combined with some teaching. Once I have finished my doctorate, I will put my main focus on triathlon for a few years - what I will be doing precisely next to that is not fully set in stone yet, but I do already have a few ideas and plans - watch this space I guess (or let me know if you have any other ideas for what I could try).

And I will of course continue to do everything to successfully combine my studies or job with triathlon.

© Sophia Saller 2016. All rights reserved. Impressum