Kostadinka Lapkova: "I just need a pen, a paper and a computer"

"If I was a movie director I could visualize mathematical thinking with long silent shots of snowy mountain peaks", explains Kostadinka Lapkova who received a Back-to-Research Grant and works at the Department of Mathematics at the University of Vienna.

Why did you study mathematics?
Kostadinka Lapkova: Due to the challenge and creativity. Despite the common expectation that mathematics attracts mainly precise and pedantic people I got into problem-solving and later research in maths because of its beauty. If I was a movie director I could visualize mathematical thinking with long silent shots of snowy mountain peaks.

What was the biggest challenge on your journey so far?
Lapkova: There were some tough moments in my past that could have turned me to different paths than the current one, but for good or bad here I am. The latest challenges were writing my PhD thesis while I was pregnant and had morning sickness, and also my current postdoc position in Budapest. I have to leave my little daughter for a day in Vienna in order to take part at a Number theory seminar in Budapest. This unfortunately does not help her overcoming her separation anxiety.

What are the difficulties in entering the scientific work after maternity leave again?

Lapkova: I was very eager to start work again after one year maternity leave. The truth is I am still rather a full-time mother than a full-time scientist – my toddler still needs me a lot. Fortunately I have an understanding supervisor and nice colleagues and I can work at home only with a pen, a paper and a computer.

Back-to-Research Grant: The grant provides support for researchers writing applications for research projects that serve their career development and/or writing/completing publications. The target groups are female Post-doctoral researchers without a long-term contract (or who came to Vienna from abroad and are looking to restart/continue research), from the fields of Earth Sciences, Geography and Astronomy, Life Sciences, Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics and Chemistry, who reduced or interrupted their academic research in the past five years in order to care for their child/children.

Why did you apply for the Back to Research Grant?

Lapkova: My family lives in Vienna and this is where I would like to work as well. The best thing for the Back-to-Research Grant is that not only it provides financial support for meeting my and my daughter's needs, but it opens many possibilities for me to meet people and find resources for job-searching and research. I especially want to thank Prof. Christoph Baxa of the Department of Mathematics who is my coordinator and has already made many steps for my introduction to the community in Vienna.
Furthermore, I hope to extend some results from my PhD thesis regarding "class number problem on certain real quadratic fields" and start a new research inspired by the same problem later this year, but with new analytic methods.

What are your plans for the future?
Lapkova: Raise my kid, find a job, broaden my research area and work with more collaborators.

Should women be specifically promoted in science?
Lapkova: Yes. Not only because they are more likely to drop out from academia after having children, also because they are more sensitive to gender related issues. This said from a woman in a field almost entirely dominated by men who felt uncomfortably because of this in a few occasions.

Kostadinka Lapkova got her BA and MSc degree in mathematics at Sofia University in Bulgaria, where she has also worked as a high-school teacher and a statistician in a financial company. After that she received her PhD in mathematics in the area of Number theory in Budapest, Hungary, in May 2012. In August 2012 she gave birth to her daughter. Currently she works as a young researcher (postdoc) in the Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.