In Michaela Szölgyenyi’s cosmos

My cosmos is definitely Lake Wörthersee. It’s only five minutes from the university to the lido, and I swim a daily lap starting from the southern pier as long as the temperatures allow. Better a short swim than no swim at all! Much like other people take a coffee break, I take a swim break, usually in the company of two colleagues. I find this to be the perfect time-out to clear my head. I only realised that I am a total water person when I moved here in 2018. As a child I used to spend my holidays at Lake Attersee; my grandfather taught me to sail and I often spent hours snorkelling. These days, I only swim on the surface of the lake. In the winter I am drawn to the snow in the Carinthian mountains, where I have learned how to go on ski tours. Next summer, the plan is to go windsurfing.

Lake Wörthersee does have one disadvantage: There’s no breeze – at least compared to Lake Attersee. The freedom involved in sailing is similar to that associated with horse riding. That’s pure freedom. I don’t own a boat yet; the set-up costs are too high. But you never know what the future holds. In any case, I don’t want to generate a deficit artificially, but rather live according to whatever the present circumstances allow. I don‘t hesitate to make decisions; passively allowing things to unfold is not my style.

I am less good at other things. For example, furnishing and decorating a flat. The result tends to be rather linear and tidy. In other homes I really like the non-linearity. There is only one thing I insist on: my spider plants and spacious solid wood shelves for all my books. I love to read – and I prefer hefty novels in hardcover to short stories. My favourite book last summer was “Sixteen Words” by Bachmann Prize winner Nava Ebrahimi.

Professionally, I am kept pretty busy with research, teaching and with running the FWF doctoral programme Multiple Perspectives in Optimization. Ten of the 14 young researchers are women. I am particularly pleased about that. The discrimination of women and other injustices irritate me immensely. It was like that back in my school days, when I spoke up when I saw injustice and stood up for others.

The spirit that these young people bring to the Departments of Statistics and Mathematics is awesome and invigorating. Corona-related silence on the campus, which we have felt lately, is at odds with the university’s fundamental role as a place of encounter. While I am glad that international conferences can at least be held virtually and that there will be fewer of these ecologically problematic and exhausting trips in the future, I still believe that personal contact with other researchers is essential.

I like being around people and sharing a laugh with them. I get nothing out of being sulky for prolonged periods. Humour, sarcasm and the satirical website Die Tagespresse keep me amused. It’s only when it comes to real politics that I sometimes lose my sense of humour.

Music is as important to me as the water. I often listen to music; even when I’m working I’ll wear headphones. It’s mainly rock music from the 1980s – the Rolling Stones, Guns n’ Roses, Solid Gold. That said, the Spotify recommender system needs some improvement to fully cater to my tastes. Listening to music helps me to think. I’m also really good at staring into space. And at doing nothing … I’m very good at that.

Recorded by Barbara Maier

Zur Person

Born: 1988 in Linz

Job: Professor of Stochastic Processes and Head of the Department of Statistics

Education: Master’s degrees in Industrial Mathematics and Economics, and Doctorate in Mathematics at  JKU Linz, Postdoc at Vienna University of Economics and Business and ETH Zurich

Cosmos: Lido Klagenfurt, 12 October 2021

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