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Michael Strayer is a fourth year Ph.D. student in the mathematics department.  He works under Robert Proctor in the area of combinatorial Lie theory.

1) What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I have always loved math and wanted to keep learning more of it. My father had a good career that paid our family’s bills, but I don’t think it gave him a lot of personal fulfillment.  From watching him as I grew up, I knew I wanted a career that provided not only a steady income but personal fulfillment as well.  I decided to go to graduate school when I was working in a sales position that I disliked.

2) What’s the thing you love most about Chapel Hill?

I love the small-town feel to it.  Despite being home to a world-class university, it still feels like a small, close-knit community.  I came from a town of about 1,500 people in Ohio, so I don’t think I’d enjoy a big city.

3) If you had any advice for someone thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, what would it be?

Pursue what will give you fulfillment, not just a paycheck.  Life as a grad student has been hard, but it has also been as rewarding as any experience I have ever had.  The only other part of my life that has been this rewarding is my marriage to my wife Rachelle.

4) What is your dream career after you’ve completed your studies?

I want to teach mathematics at the university level. I went to a small liberal arts university for my undergraduate degree, and the professors there were able to invest in their students’ lives.  I still have close relationships with former professors of mine, and I hope to pay that forward someday.


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