2024 Student Essay Contest: Grades 6-8 Honorable Mention

“Women in Math: Indefinite”

by: Anujin Batkhuu (Don Valley Middle School)

Interviewee: Khulan Tumenbayar (National University of Mongolia)

In an East Asian country known for its vast plains and abundance of nature, lies a world of mathematics. A world in development, it is led by the mathematicians of the country, one of whom is our headliner: Khulan Tumenbayar. She is a Mongolian woman in the mathematical field who makes a difference as a professor at the National University of Mongolia. From calculus to linear algebra, and abstract algebra to algebraic geometry, Professor Tumenbayar has her hands full in the best ways possible teaching Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students. An expert juggler of many responsibilities, Professor Tumenbayar attends international conferences in countries from Japan to Germany while making changes in her own country as a knowledgeable professor. We might only wonder about her daring, mathematical journey that fostered life-lasting virtues and skills opening her eyes to indefinite possibilities. Fortunately, our imagination can come to a halt with the trajectory of Professor Tumenbayar’s life, detailing the tips and tricks, the lessons and the story behind the limitless women of the mathematical field, right here.

Growing up in Mongolia, Professor Tumenbayar was the eldest of her two siblings and fostered responsibility and patience. Her father was a civil engineer and her mother was an accountant. As a bright child, she became one of the selected few to enter the newly constructed school specializing in math. Starting from grade five, her interest in math was fostered and she began to look up to math with fascination. Her high school teachers who were her biggest role models developed that love with their energy and passion. Professor Tumenbayar knew that mathematics was a safe yet exciting route and was confident in pursuing this career throughout University.

At the National University of Mongolia, Professor Tumenbayar’s future teaching grounds, the young adult began her career in mathematics. She entered the Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary to obtain her Bachelor’s degree and completed it at the National University of Mongolia. She later defended her Ph.D. at the Tokyo Metropolitan University. The aspiring professor had come a long way; 1990 miles from home.

Throughout this long journey, there came a pivotal moment when Professor Tumenbayar questioned the validity of her passion over the past 20 years. The driven University student was met with a burn-out. She felt as though she wasn’t seeing any progress in her mathematical endeavors and considered switching up gears to the career of a doctor. With her head in doubt, Professor Tumenbayar chose to follow her heart. With some time to rediscover her child-like fascination for mathematics, she was reminded of why she came this far. When students come asking for advice, this professor’s words of wisdom are as follows: Keep moving forward, even when change seems imperceptible because each time the heart and effort are put in, you’ll find yourself a step closer to your goals.

The roadmap to becoming a professor was paved by moving step-by-step until reaching her goal. The young student began to gain experience in academia as a teaching assistant and lecturer at the National University of Mongolia. She defended her Ph.D. and is now an associate professor at the National University of Mongolia. Initially, the professor had believed that in the academic field where there were so few females, the lack of representation would be one of the greatest challenges. As a professor she realized this was nothing to worry about; rather, her greatest challenge would come from outside of her career.

Not only a new professor but a new mother, Professor Tumenbayar struggled to manage her many responsibilities. The birth and development of her daughters formed some part of her favourite memories as well as the busiest. Throughout these hectic times, it was practicality that brought refuge. Plans were used to organize her long list of to-do’s, and time schedules were used regularly. The patience, discipline, and creativity fostered throughout the exploration of this field also became merits helping in her day-to-day life. Professor Tumenbayar strived to be as efficient as possible; a good mother as well as an inspiring professor showing her students the beauty of mathematics as her mentors had once shown her.

With one pursuing a career in mathematics, and the other in computer science, her daughters have followed in their mother’s footsteps. Now that her children have grown, Professor Tumenbayar enjoys more leisure time for her hobbies: hiking through mountains and experimenting with international recipes.

In 2018, Professor Tumenbayar’s love for teaching brought her back to the National Olympiad: this time, as a mentor. To promote the inclusion of females in the mathematical field, EGMO (European Girls Mathematical Olympiad) was created. For three years, she has been an important member of the Mongolian competition team. She brought the girls to success as they won bronze, silver, and gold medals. At first, Mongolia was unable to participate in these competitions due to financial difficulties. Luckily, as the community saw the talent and hard work of the young girls, they began fundraising. In recent years, she is proud to say that the financial situation has allowed leading young mathematicians to realize their dreams and experience the opportunities they deserve.

Changing lives every day through her teachings, Professor Tumenbayar is an exemplary professor and an icon proving that math is something to hold faith for because regardless of the circumstance and location, the present feelings and past problems, mathematics will surely reap what is sowed. From her position as a professor, she has seen the developments in her field and contributed to many herself; the increased involvement of women for instance. She reminds us that though math might appear to be completely technical, it is also an emotional journey in which blood, sweat, and tears are poured and where they are made worth it. From a passion for learning to a love for teaching, Khulan Tumenbayar changes lives every day by cultivating a love for math in the youth of today and proving that truly, women in math are indefinite.