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Black History Month
2021 Honoree

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Lester Mackey

Lester Mackey

Principal Researcher

Microsoft Research New England

 

Where are you from?

I grew up in Long Island, NY, went to college in Princeton, NJ, moved to Berkeley, CA to pursue a PhD, spent a year as a postdoc and three years as a professor at Stanford University, and now live just outside of Boston, MA.  

 

Please describe an experience (or 2) that helped you discover/ cultivate your interest in the mathematical sciences.

I will never forget my experience at the Ross Program (https://rossprogram.org/), an intense 8-week summer program in number theory designed to expose teenagers to proof-based mathematics.  There I learned about axioms, induction, and rigorous proof.  I learned to think deeply about simple things like integers, fractions, and arithmetic.  I even learned a new way to learn as each student taught him or herself the material by working through a daily sequence of problem sets.  At the Ross Program, I was exposed to a side of mathematics that I had never encountered in my math classes — and I loved it.

The following year, I got my first taste of mathematical research at the Research Science Institute (http://www.cee.org/research-science-institute), a cost-free program in which high school students learn the skills and tools of academic research all while conducting independent research over the course of a summer.

I learned of both programs from Chrysi Notskas, an amazing teacher from my school district who took it upon herself to mentor me.

What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your career in the mathematical sciences?

Every day I reflect on my good fortune at finding a field (machine learning) and a job (researcher) that I truly love.  My work scarcely seems like work as it’s exactly what I would be doing even if no one was paying me.

 

What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your personal life?

My life is full of loving, cherished people.

 

Please share some words of wisdom/inspiration.

Look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.