# Sylvia Serfaty

French mathematician & academic

**Sylvia Serfaty** (born 1975) is a French mathematician working in the United States.

## Quotes

edit### In Mathematics, ‘You Cannot Be Lied To’ (February 21, 2017)

editIn Mathematics, ‘You Cannot Be Lied To’ (February 21, 2017)

- It’s the same kind of pleasure as with hiking: You hike uphill and it’s tough and you sweat, and at the end of the day the reward is the beautiful view. Solving a math problem is a bit like that, but you don’t always know where the path is and how far you are from the top. You have to be able to accept frustration, failure, your own limitations.
- ...If you have enough ability, then you cultivate it and build on it, just as a musician plays scales and practices to get to a top level.
- One of the first pieces of advice I got as I was starting my Ph.D. was from Tristan Rivière (a previous student of my adviser, Fabrice Béthuel), who told me: People think that research in math is about these big ideas, but no, you really have to start from simple, stupid computations — start again like a student and redo everything yourself. I found that this is so true. A lot of good research actually starts from very simple things, elementary facts, basic bricks, from which you can build a big cathedral. Progress in math comes from understanding the model case, the simplest instance in which you encounter the problem. And often it is an easy computation; it’s just that no one had thought of looking at it this way.
- I tell myself that there are always very bright people who have thought about these problems and made very beautiful and elaborate theories, and certainly I cannot always compete on that end. But let me try to rethink the problem almost from scratch with my own little basic understanding and knowledge and see where I go. Of course, I have built enough experience and intuition that I sort of pretend to be naive. In the end, I think a lot of mathematicians proceed this way, but maybe they don’t want to admit it, because they don’t want to appear simple-minded. There is a lot of ego in this profession, let’s be honest.