NYSF Alumna Kelli Francis-Staite is Oxford Bound

Kelli Francis-Staite 2009 NYSF Alumna and Adelaide University student has recently been announced as the 2015 South Australian Rhodes Scholar.

For three years she will work alongside some of the world’s best academic minds as she completes her doctorate in her field of differential geometry, nutting out solutions to Einstein’s field equations to expand knowledge about curves of gravity, time and space.

Kelli completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Adelaide, majoring in pure mathematics. “I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for a two-year masters degree, which I completed earlier in 2015.”  During that time, she started applying for scholarships to begin a new journey overseas.

A Rhodes Scholarship is far more than just a scholarship. It is an invitation to an amazing network of people in Oxford

Kelli Francis-Staite

Kelli Francis-Staite

The Rhodes Scholarship presents an opportunity for graduate students with proven leadership skills to apply to The University of Oxford, with tuition fully paid for, along with a scholarship stipend for living allowances.

“A Rhodes Scholarship is far more than just a scholarship. It is an invitation to an amazing network of people in Oxford, including previous and current Rhodes Scholars, as well as a wider network of industry and opportunities.”

The Rhodes Trust has a selection committee for each state of Australia. “In South Australia, I filled in an online application which included detailing my leadership experiences and extra-curricular activities. The core of this application was a 1500 word personal statement about why I was interested in the Rhodes Scholarship and what I wanted to study. The process of applying is a little daunting, but even the experience of writing a personal statement and being interviewed is a valuable process.”

The committee selected seven students for interview where Kelli was questioned extensively, including the inevitable question, ‘Why should anyone study pure mathematics?’

“I’m not sure I felt I answered the questions as convincingly as I could have, but I hoped they saw the determination I had to continue my studies overseas.”

On learning of her successful selection, Kelli says she spent the next couple of weeks in shock. “I’d never had so many emails, phone calls, and text messages with so many congratulations. I was still at University, completing my masters, and students and lecturers would stop and chat to me. It was an incredibly strange experience for a few weeks, almost as though I had become famous.”

I thoroughly encourage any young NYSF student to apply to the Rhodes Trust if they are considering continuing their studies beyond undergrad, and beyond Australia

Kelli is studying a DPhil in Pure Mathematics, focusing on Differential and Algebraic Geometry. “I think it is a testament to my initial engineering aspirations I had while attending the NYSF – which started the process of discovery for me – that I retained a focus on the geometrical aspects of mathematics.”

“For those who have not heard of these subjects before, they are essentially studying differential and algebraic equations on geometric objects. In simpler terms, this is akin to applying calculus techniques on circles and spheres and doughnuts. In my time here, I hope to learn and create more mathematical tools to solve these kinds of equations.”

For Kelli, a lot of the motivation for her work comes from theoretical physics, and the mathematics she has been using is the same mathematics that physicists used to describe Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity, which allows GPS devices to work. So while it may seem that there is no direct application to pure mathematics, is it more likely that the application is yet to be invented.

“Another example is the incredible work on prime numbers. Prime numbers have over 2000 years of pure mathematical interest, and the pure mathematical theory behind them is the main reason we have secure internet communication. This is one of the many areas where mathematics that has been seen as ‘pure mathematics’ has become very applied too. In this lies the answer to the question, ‘why study pure mathematics?’ Although there may be no current application, this does not mean there won’t be one in the future.”

“I thoroughly encourage any young NYSF student to apply to the Rhodes Trust if they are considering continuing their studies beyond undergrad, and beyond Australia.”