Tell Me About…


What was the spark or seminal moment that made you decide on your chosen field—and why?

“In my undergraduate junior year, I started to see mathematics as the only honest pursuit of why things are the way they are. I had a class in topology about the deep structural properties of mathematical objects called manifolds. A manifold is an abstraction to higher dimensions of the geometric objects we see all around us—like a donut or a sphere. This abstraction has mathematical properties like curvature that have real-world consequences: in our space-time manifold as posited in general relativity, curvature is none other than gravity. Our world is the way it is because it’s implied by mathematics. Boom. I was hooked.”

Nitu Kitchloo
Chair and Professor, Mathematics

“I grew up in Richmond, and as a kid, I went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts fairly regularly. They had a display with a long, dark passageway with Egyptian objects on the walls, a statue at the end, and, around the corner, a window looking into a mummy and burial display. I loved going there. It wasn’t just the mummy; it was those hieroglyphs. I just wanted to be able to understand what they said so I could understand what these people thought about. I made up my mind when I was 10 years old that that was what I wanted to do. Nothing else turned me on in the same way.”

Betsy Bryan
Alexander Badawy Chair and Professor, Near Eastern Studies
Vice Dean for Humanities and Social Sciences

“In a former life, I studied economics and then worked as an economist for a multinational oil company in Cairo. The job paid well and wasn’t too difficult—and it helped me realize that I wanted something very different from work. There were various escapes from the drudgery of spreadsheets, but when I read Gamal al-Ghitani’s Zayni Barakat, a historical novel set in 15th-century Cairo, I saw the light and discovered a passion for medieval history. This conversion led me to graduate school in Cairo, Cambridge, and Princeton, where I studied medieval Middle Eastern history. (It also made me appreciate the transformative potential of distracting reading.)”

Tamer el-Leithy
Assistant Professor, History